Sunday, January 29, 2012

India: The young, missionary Church challenges intolerance

India has been for a long time (and perhaps still is) the ‘Country of Missions’ par excellence and has become the focus of an intense effort of Christianization made by the traditional Christian Churches and also by the recently formed Evangelical Churches. 

And yet, India sends abroad one of the highest number of priests, missionaries and nuns in the world. 

People in some areas of India have been reported to live in a state of persecution on all levels, at the hands of Hindu Radicals, supported by local and state authorities.
Recently in Bangalore there was a congress organized jointly by the Catholic Conference of Bishops of India and the Conference of Major Superiors. 

This was the first congress on the theme of ‘Missions Overseas’. Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai hosted the event.

The secretary general of the CBI (Catholic Bishops' Conference of India) has invited the organizers to arrange another national conference like this one as soon as possible.
The conference was called “Imac 2012” and it took place at the Institute of Theology of the Conference of Major Superiors in the Kernataka state, which as we are about to show is also one of the most affected by the drama of anti-Christian persecution. 

The conference was attended by about forty dignitaries including the representatives of 25 missionary organizations, of religious congregations and dioceses.
Bishops of Catholic dioceses, Major Superiors of congregations, experts on missions and Indian missionaries with  a great deal of experience in the field exchanged stories and ideas for four days.
According to Fr. Balthazar Castellino of the Missions Etrangères in Paris (Mep) currently in Madagascar, missionaries from India nowadays are present in 166 different countries. According to the information provided by Fr. Castellino, there are 6543 nuns, 940 priests, 226 diocesan priests and 159 Indian monks working in missions today. 

Fr. Castellino warns that these figures fluctuate because the information is fragmented at best. The missionary, who is also the secretary of the Episcopal Conference of Madagascar said that the number of Indian missionaries currently in the field is about 15,000. 

This is not an exaggerated figure, far from it, this number is bound to increase in the near future. More than 214 religious congregations today send Indian missionaries abroad.
The conference helped disprove the stereotype by which Indian missionaries are presumed to be mostly in Europe and North America. The testimonies of those present and the statistics presented at the Imac 2012 showed how the great majority of these missionaries actually work in Africa, South America and in the Pacific area. 

Following this first conference the attendees released a statement highlighting the need to rapidly create an official structure in the Indian Church to educate and prepare future missionaries, but also to give support in terms of supplies and money to the Christianization effort, as well as the need to create a website and information centre.
There is another side to the Church in India, a sad one. It seems absurd that  Karnataka, the very state where the conference took place, should also be the state where Christians (and other religions too) are most severely and widely  persecuted. 

During the recent Christmas festivities Karnataka was found to be, for the third year in a row, the most dangerous place in India for religious minorities. According to the Protestants who are the more frequent but not the only victims of Hindu violence, in the last year there have been 49 cases of violence and hostility against Christians.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India every year publishes a study on this phenomenon that for social, economic and political reasons is not likely to subside. 

The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), also based in Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, has documented at least six cases of aggression against Christians between Christmas eve and new year’s eve last year.

For example near Mangalore, at Christmas, twenty assailants burst into a house where people were celebrating Christmas. These men were members of a society called Hindu Jagran Vedike. They attacked defenceless men, women and children with sticks and stones.

“These attacks are scandalous and are a stain on the image of a democratic and secular India,” declared Sajan K. George, President of the GCIC. But the real and essential problem is the impunity the Hindu radicals enjoy, in this instance for example five people were arrested but also quickly released by the authorities. 

It is hardly surprising that the assaults have multiplied after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a radical Hindu party, came to power in the State of Karnataka in 2008. 

That year there were at least 28 cases of aggression against Christians, which became 48 the following year and 56 in 2010.