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A wakeup call from 
the Indian bishops

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India renewed its dedication to sensitising and conscientising the faithful of the Church to the rampant human rights abuses, which the bishops say are characteristic of Indian society, in the closing statement of its two-yearly plenary assembly on February 8.

The forthright statement signed by over 160 bishops is a reminder to the whole of Asia and the world of the basic responsibility the Church carries in fulfilling Christ’s mission to bring good news to the poor, set prisoners free and give food to the hungry.

The Indian bishops say that they believe that the poor of their country, who still constitute the vast majority of the most populous nation on earth, have been betrayed by the myths of modern civilisation and commerce.

They add that the promise of wealth, freedom and happiness made by the commercial interests of globalisation has blinded the people to the reality of poverty, oppression and economic slavery.

They point to the manipulation of the workforce, which they say  has seen the bulk of the people giving the sweat of their brows for the benefit of the few at the top of the economic and political heap.

While this is not a startlingly new insight, the fact that it is coming from a bishops’ conference in what is often perceived as a thriving Church in Asia, makes it significant, as while we are accustomed to Church people speaking in this way, they normally come from groups like Justice and Peace or Labour Commissions, Caritas or bodies that work directly with the poor, and are seen as representing their organisations rather than the Church.

But this time it is a bishops’ conference talking and it is not just an observation about governments or business tycoons, as the bishops go onto say that they believe that the Church itself has failed in its obligation to be the voice of the voiceless, by failing to sensitise the Catholic people to the failures of their own Church.

The bishops point to their own schools, which they note have failed to be agents of social change in society, and they point to themselves, saying that they have failed to eradicate any vestiges of discrimination and corruption from within the very organisations for which they are responsible.

They reflect that that they have betrayed the poor and marginalised, as they have not been able to make the Church sufficiently sensitive to human rights violations and atrocities against women, tribal people, dalits (untouchables) and other groups that live in dehumanising and oppressive poverty.

Meeting under the topic of The role of the Church for a better India, the bishops are not deprecating the work that is being done within the Church or pointing the finger at any individuals, but giving a wakeup call to Catholics across India, Asia and the globe that the Church has a specific mission in the world.

It is also a reminder of the criteria by which local Churches should judge themselves. It is not to say that the state of Indian society is wholly and solely the fault of the Church, but it is an invitation to people in the Church to seriously examine their lives and the apostolates in which they are engaged and ask themselves how and if they are contributing to the common good. JiM