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CCBI Plenary Assembly Held In Chennai; Elects New Office Bearers

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altCHENNAI, JAN 12: Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo is the new President and Archbishop (and Patriarch of Goa) Philip Neri the Vice-President. Bishop Varghese Chakkalakal of Kannur is the new the Secretary General of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India [CCBI].   

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop Vincent Concessao and Bishop Prakash Mallavarapu completed their term of office and the new team was elected on Jan. 11, 2011.


The 23rd Plenary Assembly of Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) Sacred Heart Seminary, Chennai, 6 -12 January, 2011.

The CCBI, the fourth largest Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the World, had its 23rd Plenary Assembly here in Chennai, from 6th to 12th January 2011. It was eleven years back, that the CBCI (which is really a federation of the conferences of Bishops of three sui juris ritual Churches) had its Plenary Assembly in Chennai. That was the celebration of the Millennium Great Jubilee and now it is the first year of the 21st century’s¬†¬† second decade. The 2000 meeting was a significant mile-stone for the Church in India: The Declaration of the Policy of “A New Way of Being Church” or the resurgence of Basic Ecclesial Communities as a national Church policy. In 2011, the CCBI’s visionary theme was “Catechetical (Religious Education) Renewal, Essential for a Vibrant Church in India.”¬†


123 Bishops participated


It was an ordinary biennial meeting, with an extraordinary enthusiasm! 123 Bishops gathered at Sacred Heart Seminary, Poonamalee, Chennai and the host dioceses was the Archdiocese of Madras (Chennai)-Mylapore. Archbishop Chinnappa and his auxiliary Bishop Lawrence Pius and their team, headed by Fr. Vijay Kiran, had made meticulous arrangements for a smooth conduct of the meeting in the TN’s capital, the city of St. Thomas. The Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, who is ambassador of Vatican for India was present at the meeting from the beginning till its penultimate day.


At the Inaugural meeting at 9 am, the Pope’s representative underlined the centrality of Catechetics in the building up of a faith- community. Quoting Pope John Paul II’s call to what he famously called “the New Evangelization”, he insisted that it is through Catechetics that the Gospel and its message can become a reality in the daily life of an already believing community. In this sense, he said, “Catechetics is part of our duty to evangelize”. He appreciated the CCBI for having chosen a relevant theme for this general assembly. This year’s meeting has a particular significance, as it falls in the 25th Year of the historic Apostolic Visit of Pope John Paul II.


Cardinal Oswald Gracias


Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the President of CCBI, helped the audience to see importance of Catechetics through the prism of 10 challenges that he enumerated, which, he said, the world at large and the Indian Church in Particular has to face today. The multi-religious situation in India, the anti-Christian attacks and wide-spread corruption are of some of them. Though India is acclaimed as a country where most people practice their religions, the widespread corruption and the persistence of other social evils only show that the ethos of those religions has not become a part of the lives of people. It is here that the catechetics should be seen as vital for the transformation of the society. Its purpose is to make the Christian faith becomes a lived reality in the lives of the Christians. 


“Broader than Catechism”


Bishop Antony Devotta, the Chairman of the CCBI Commission for Catechetics, said that the Catechesis is wider than the Catechism. While catechism is often understood as the teaching of faith for children in a classroom set up, Catechesis includes all that concerns education in faith of persons of all age: It is a systematic and orderly initiation and cultivation of faith. Then he tabled before the Bishops the draft of the National Catechetical Directory, prepared by the CCBI commission for Catechetics. He asked the members to go through the text of the Directory and propose corrections and amendments so that the CCBI can publish it as a basic document for the Catechetical renewal in India, with the approval of Vatican.


“A paradigm shift in Catechesis is the need of the hour”


“Catechesis today needs to undergo a paradigm shift, if it is to be relevant in the post Conciliar and postmodern era”!¬† This is the gist of the talk by Dr. Vallabaraj Jerome, SDB, professor of Catechetics at the Pontifical Salesian University, Rome.¬† Commenting on the draft of the Catechetical Directory, he said that it underlines the much needed paradigm shift from “doctrine” to “message”, from “teaching” to “proclamation”, from “catechism” to “catechesis”. Speaking of the believers, the shift should be from “Christians” to “disciples”. Catechesis is aimed at a “nurturing of discipleship” rather than being just an attempt in the understanding of the formulae of faith. Speaking of the agents of Catechesis he said, “Catechesis is an Ecclesial action, an expression of the Church and an essential moment in its mission. Just as one can rightly say that if the Church fails to be missionary, it fails to be Church, one can say, if the Church fails to catechize, she fails to be the church of Christ.


Catechesis in context


For the next two and a half days, six parts and 19 chapters of the proposed Directory was explained by the experts involved in the drafting: Frs. Vallabaraj Jerome, SDB, Jayapalan, SDB, Alfred Vaz, Goa, Gilbert Choondal, SDB and Sr. Teresa Joseph, FMA. Each talk was followed by a well-prepared response from one of the Bishops: Bp. Gali Bali, Archbishop Soosa Packiam, Bp. Thomas Dabre, Bp. Vincent Barwa, Bp. Agnelo Gracias. The floor discussions provided suggestions for corrections, amendments and necessary additions, so that the Directory could be considered a valuable document for a contextually relevant, doctrinally rich, methodologically effective catechesis for the Indian people. The following are some of the highlights of the points emphasized:


·     Jesus is the best catechist and his teaching is a model catechesis, in conveying the message of the Kingdom.

·     The loci of Catechesis are: Parish, Family, Small Christian Communities (SCC), Lay movements, Pastoral groups and Education Institutions.

·     In every diocese, the Bishop is the principal catechist as far as the Church is concerned and Catechesis is a primary duty of every priest in the parish. In this process of catechesis, the most important role is played by the parents and the home is the first school of catechesis. Then come also the important contribution done by of lay catechists, teachers and religious. The Church should encourage and organize proper maintenance of the lay catechists. Women play a vital role in Catechesis, beginning with the mothers of families. The role of the parents, the siblings, the grandparents and other members of the extended family together form the first catechetical community for the children. Hence the importance of Family Catechesis. The women religious also make an irreplaceable contribution.

·    The main source of Catechesis is the Word of God, which is given to us in a unique way in the Bible, the Church tradition and the teaching of the Magisterium and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).

·     Catechesis is not restricted to children. It is a life-long process meant for persons in all age-groups, since the Word of God is understood in different depths relevant to the age-group and life situation. We need to take into account the needs of special groups too so that the effective renewal of the Church could be carried out at all levels.

·     It is important to realize the influence of Media Communications on the people. It is for the Catechist not only to make use of the most relevant and effective media of communication, but also to foster a critical understanding of the secular media.

·     A faith based action or the orthopraxis is not just one of the ways of catechizing, but the focus of catechesis. Therefore the person and the life-style of the catechist are important.


Hands and Feet of the Conference


All the 12 Commissions of the CCBI presented the reports of their activities and plans, beginning with the Commission for Bible, which gave added a encouraging note on the follow up of the recommendations of the 21st Plenary Assembly of the CCBI on the word of God. The Bishops showed a lot of interest and involvement in their work and this is not only encouraging to the Chairpersons and Executive Secretaries of different Commissions, but are real signs of enduring vitality and effectiveness of the CCBI. The Bishops acknowledged that the Commissions – national, regional and diocesan, are the hands and feet of the Conference.


Some significant decisions have been made during this plenary assembly of the CCBI:


·     The following Churches were voted to be recommended to be recognized as minor basilicas: The Cathedral of St. Joseph, Mysore, known as the Church of St. Philomena; the Infant Jesus Church in Bangalore; the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Pondicherry. The same status was recommended for the Shrine of St. John de Britto at Oriyur in the diocese of Sivagangai,in the plenary assembly in Guwhati on the 27th of February, 2010.

·   The Shrine of St. Thomas Mount, Chennai, was raised to a national status during a Concelebration by all the Bishops there, presided over by the apostolic Nuncio, Salvatore Pennacchio.

·     The CCBI Commission for Proclamation will start a National Centre for Proclamation in September 2011, at Pachmarhi, Hosangabad in Madya Pradesh, in the premises belonging to the Diocese of Allahabad.

·      The Bishops decided once again and with a thumping majority, to build the permanent CCBI Centre in the National Capital, Delhi.

·     There is an urgent need for raising the voice of the Church for demand of justice to the Christians (and Muslims) of Scheduled Caste origin, for including them in among the Scheduled caste doing away with the present discrimination based on religion, which is a blatant violation of the secular nature of our democracy. The Bishops decided not only to present a strongly worded memorandum to the Prime Minister, but also to hold a protest demonstration in Delhi in which all the Bishops should participate. Participation in this by Bishops of other Ritual churches is to be sought. If enquired the Bishops will also take to fasting and even indefinite fasting.


Other significant observations made during the meeting:


·     The professors of philosophy and theology in Seminaries are formators and it is important that they undergo training as formators, since academic degrees in an ecclesiastical or secular degree alone will not qualify them as seminary formators. The formators course being conducted at the National Vocation Service Centre, Pune was mentioned as a model course for the formators and the formators (all teachers in Major Seminaries) should undergo it or any other similar programme.

·     It is important to promote regular praying of the Liturgy of Hours by all priests, since it is a grave obligation prescribed by the Church and as promised during the Ordination to Diaconate. This is an urgent concern and proper care should be given to it also during the formative years in the Seminary.


A moving “touch


The solemn public Concelebration of Eucharist in the grounds of St. Bede’s, School Chennai, under the auspices of the Basilica of St. Thomas was marked by a moving experience: the second reading by a visually challenged person from the Brail Tamil New Testament, newly published by the Tamil Nadu Bible commission. It was indeed a moment to remember!

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