Thursday, December 12, 2013

For Bangalore archbishop, Evangelii Gaudium spurs India to a new evangelisation Francis' Evangelii Gaudium "calls on parishes, dioceses and the Bishops' Conference of India to experience the new evangelisation in an even stronger way, because our Church, together with the universal Church, has the duty and task to proclaim the Good News with enthusiasm and renewal," said Mgr Bernard Moras, archbishop of Bangalore (Karnataka, India) after he read the Apostolic Exhortation, and personally met the pope in a recent visit to Rome. 

The prelate arrived in Italy as a member of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers, which hosted its 28th International Conference titled 'The Church in the service of the elderly sick: the care of people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases on 21-23 November. On 24 November, he took part in the celebrations in St Peter's Square that marked the end of the Year of Faith, and the next day he was received in private audience by Pope Francis.

"I waited with excitement the opportunity to meet the Holy Father," Mgr Moras told AsiaNews. "On the day of his election, I experienced profound joy - seeing him, the new bishop of Rome, and his pectoral cross, which is like mine. When he received me we were in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, and he moved around like anyone of us would . . . . Every now and then, he had something to eat, and he would not hesitate to stop and greet the people who came to him to share their concerns. He gave me the impression of being a real good shepherd who bore witness with his own life to the humility he preaches to everyone, even to us members of the Church."

Archbishop Moras is in charge of an important diocese, that of Bangalore, whose main city is the fastest growing city in Asia with a population that has reached 10 million. "There are various reasons for this success," the prelate told AsiaNews. "Firstly, it is a welcoming place for everyone, for Indians and people from every part of the Earth. In the last ten years, it has become known for its activities related to Information Technology (IT). Today, it provides services not only to India but also to the rest of the world, and many foreigners are coming here to start their own businesses and activities. In addition to growth, Bangalore contributes to the country's and Karnataka's development, generating 64 per cent of the state's revenues."

The city is also known for its healthcare industry and educational sector. "We have excellent hospitals," the bishop noted, "which are known throughout the world. Plus, we are home to many international schools, attended by students from Karnataka, other parts of India and abroad. In fact, about 10 to20 per cent of pupils studying in Bangalore are from neighbouring countries or continents. Fees are low but the services offered are of good quality."

Yet, despite being one of the most modern, rich and developed states in India, Karnataka continues to be the scene of attacks by Hindu extremists against Christians. Minority Christians have not yet forgotten the attacks of 2008, when fundamentalists destroyed 24 churches, at a time when the most violent anti-Christian pogrom to ever happen in India was being perpetrated in Orissa.

"At that time, the two states were run by fundamentalist administrations (under the Hindu ultra-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party) and their supporters took advantage of this to attack Christians," Mgr Moras explained. "In some areas, the notion that India belonged to Hindus was spreading. But the majority of Indians and Hindus do not agree."

Since then, "we have established good relations with other communities in Karnataka," he added. "Fortunately, now we have a secularist government that is better disposed towards minorities, and our relations with the authorities have improved. We feel free to practice and profess our religion, as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution."

Despite the change in political leadership, anti-Christian attacks still take place in the state, in particular against Pentecostal Churches. According to a report by the Home Affairs Ministry, Karnataka has the worst record in southern India in terms of ethnic or religious violence. 

Some argue that these attacks are related to the 2014general elections, as ultranationalists try to gain votes in the Hindu community. For Mgr Moras, "these attacks are not politically motivated because the government has made ​​it clear that it would not tolerate violence against minorities, churches and places of worship."

"I believe they are the result of personal and local vendettas that have nothing to do with fundamentalism. Sometimes, they happen because we [Christians] are not cautious. When we practice our religion, when we pray, we must respect all our neighbours. I have the right to practice my faith, but at the same time it is my duty to let others practice theirs. Do we always do it? I do not think so."

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