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Karnataka Bishops Urge More Effective Family Ministry

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altThe following is the full text of the Pastoral Letter issued by Archbishop Bernard Moras, Archbishop of Bangalore and President, KRCBC:

Dear Rev. Fathers, Brothers, Sisters and Lay Faithful,

Peace and Joy of Christ to all of you!

At the outset, we wish that the observance of the season of Lent may help all of us to get the necessary spiritual benefits that would lead us to personal conversion and our renewed Christian and religious commitment for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom in our Karnataka Region. The Holy Father has been constantly reminding us not to make our spirituality more ritualistic, but rather to make it more practical and people oriented. 

Introduction: 

The Catholic Bishops of Karnataka met together in the second week of February in Bangalore to deliberate on the situations in our country today and our concerted response to some of the troubling events in the spirit of the Gospel and our shared mission. We deliberated also on the Synod of the Family and the Year of Consecrated Life. We are deeply concerned at the latest outbreaks of violence and church attacks, and are also greatly dismayed at the ill-treatment meted out to Christians in certain parts of the state and country. While expressing our great shock and anguish at these happenings, we thought of sharing our reflections with you, primarily the following three main issues, through this pastoral letter. Please read it carefully and share it with your parishioners and the members of your religious communities.

1. The Central Government’s attitude towards Christian Minority

As we all know the General Elections of last May gave us for the first time in the last 30 years a single party Government at the Centre with an unprecedented majority of its own without being cramped or constrained by any coalition compulsions. It was a veritable festival of democracy of which we all can be proud of. Even those who may not share the ideology of the party in power nor favour the present Government rejoiced at the functioning of our vibrant democracy. Whatever apprehensions and anxieties that many segments of our population may have had when the new Government took charge were largely dispelled when the new Prime Minister proclaimed from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day his ostensible commitment to equal respect for all religions, governance without discrimination and development for all.

Unfortunately, all these beautiful slogans have largely remained just slogans. Today, beautiful speeches are made, catchy punch-lines are coined and grand promises are floated by our political leaders. But the ground reality is becoming increasingly worrisome. There seems to be a two-pronged strategy deliberately and consciously put in place: while those in the Government give us the assurance to keep up the façade of justice and fairness for all, their party people, both in Parliament and outside, would spout venom against the minorities. Thus “love Jihad”, “Ghar Wapsi” etc. have become household terms. Campaigns for the re-conversion of people into the Hindu fold have been launched. The RSS Supremo himself calls for the creation of a “Hindu Rashtra”. Neither the Prime Minister nor anyone else in his Government condemned such statements nor warned their party workers to refrain from making such provocative statements. Their purposeful silence has continued even in the wake of repeated anti-Christian vandalism and well-planned church attacks in the national capital. And just recently, the remarks made by RSS Chief, Shri. Mohan Bhagwat, accusing Mother Teresa of indulging in religious conversion is yet another salvo aimed at Christians who are serving the needy and the poor without any discrimination of caste, creed or religion. We are happy that many Christian and other religious and secular organizations have criticized strongly the RSS Chief for his uncharitable remarks against Mother Teresa, who gained worldwide acclaim as the 'Saint of the Gutter'.  Her exemplary life of simplicity, piety and charity vouched for her extraordinary love and dedication for poor, homeless and the needy.

At a recent event in Delhi organized to celebrate the canonisation of St. Elias Chavara and St. Euphrasia, the Prime Minister clearly committed himself to ensure equal respect for all religions, prevent violence against the followers of any faith and provide equal opportunities for all to prosper in peace and freedom. But the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. Fine words and catchy slogans need to be translated into concrete action. As a popular phrase puts it, we must walk the talk.  Love is shown more in deeds than in words.  Therefore, although the Prime Minister’s speech was truly commendable still, we should not lower our guard and be complacent. The real test of the sincerity and commitment of the new Government will be the actual ground reality all over the country. So let us wait and watch.

As the President of CBCI Cardinal Cleemis puts it in his recent circular, “The shocking incidents that have taken place against Churches, clergy and laity in Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi have caused great concern to the Christian community. The recent controversies in the name of religious reconversions portray a negative image of India. Communal polarization and the bid to homogenize India are posing threat to all minorities - women, dalits, and all linguistic, cultural and religious minorities. The ‘Ghar Wapsi’ programmes, the 'saffronisation" of education and culture, and the demands for ‘a Hindu Rashtra’ are again posing challenges to the secular ethos of our beloved country. "Saffronisation" is an intellectual threat to the coming generation. Conversions of a religious nature are an exercise of one's free will and one's constitutional/fundamental right and freedom of conscience and of religion. Ghar Wapsi is a political process, carried out by the powerful exponents of religious nationalism - much against the principle of Secularism. We are afraid that the Bills and Ordinances that have been recently enacted would weaken the poor farmers, fishermen, workers, dalits, tribals and other marginalized communities of their legitimate right to life and livelihood.”  

The Constitution of India guarantees that all the citizens of our country can profess, practice and propagate a religion of one's choice. India is a land where different religious faiths have long since flourished and our founding fathers made special efforts to ensure that the rights of all are safeguarded, irrespective of our religious beliefs, gender or caste. Freedom of religion is a basic right, constitutional right, fundamental right and a democratic value. Christianity has its roots in Indian soil for almost 2000 years. The Christians in India believe in God and believe in the goodness of people and have been selflessly serving the people of this country in the fields of education, health care, community development etc. without any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed or religion. We the Christians of this country need an assurance from the Government that we are protected and secure and safe in our motherland. We express our strong concern on the aforementioned issues. Putting an end to such dangerous tendencies is inevitable for the growth and progress of our great nation. This great secular nation has to remain as a place where people of all religions and of different cultural backgrounds should live freely by practising their faith without fear or threat and in harmony. While we recommit ourselves for the progress and development of our nation, we strongly urge the Prime Minister, to intervene urgently and take appropriate action to stop incidents that pose a big threat to the unity of this secular nation and put an end to the statements made by the responsible persons in the central ministry and of the party.

The Church has always been compassionate to the poor and the suffering. We need to even more visibly concretize this attitude of 'preferential option for the poor' in all our ministry and apostolate, so emphatically reiterated by Holy Father Pope Francis. In this context, we should be more vigilant in our responsibility to protect and promote our brothers and sisters of the Dalit/Backward/Tribal communities who have embraced the Catholic faith. The current socio-political situation in the Country calls for better unity and collaboration among the various Christian Churches at the Parish/Diocesan/ Regional and National level. We need to empower our laity to critically evaluate the threats and challenges posed to the Church and to society and to evolve appropriate short term and long term strategic plans. Special efforts must be made to empower our women and youth in this regard. The values enshrined in our Constitution such as unity, fraternity, secularism, tolerance, peace and justice have to be inculcated in the mind of the youth through education and other social involvement, with a view to preparing them to be committed citizens of India and loyal sons and daughters of the Church. We should recognize our journalists, activists and other experts and promote them to respond to these threats in local basis in accordance with the mind of the Church. We need to create pressure against human rights violations in collaboration with other like-minded people.

Together with the Catholic Bishops and Religious Superiors in Karnataka, we urge our priests, religious and laity to mobilise themselves to protect and promote the basic human rights of all those who are vulnerable and are victimised on the basis of their religion, caste, class, creed, colour, culture or community.

2. Effective Ministry to the Family: The Domestic Church 

You are all aware that the recent Synod dealt with the theme of the family. The family, being the basic cell of human society and in the words of Pope John Paul II, “the domestic church” is of crucial importance for the health and wellbeing of human society as a whole and of the Church in particular. Unfortunately, the forces unleashed by globalisation, economic liberalisation, consumerism, moral relativism and weakening of fundamental values have severely jeopardised the family all over the world and even in our country, resulting in more and more people being condemned to languish in dysfunctional and even sick families with the consequence that they in their turn become wounded, fragmented and scarred personalities.

The family is the greatest institutional manifestation of Christ’s love. For those who wish to love as He would have us love, marriage and the family are indispensable, both as vehicles of salvation and as bulwarks of human society. The Church too is a family and marriage finds its richness and meaning within the mystery of the Church. Married couples and their children can find this meaning and fulfilment through building small communities of married couples who support each other unconditionally in their vocations to married life. These communities would provide networks of support grounded in the bonds of faith and family, commitment to lifelong marriage, and responsibility to and for each other.

There is particularly in the West, a dramatic increase in cohabitation, divorce, and non-marital childbearing in recent decades. In these countries marriage rate is at an all-time low, cohabitation is increasingly acceptable, and more than half of births to women under age 30 take place outside of marriage. Close to half of first marriages end in divorce. There are significant social costs to pornography and to “no fault” divorce laws that help dissolve marriages, often against the will of spouses who stand firm in their marital commitment. The time is not too far for these phenomena to affect the Church in India.

Marriage is a great good and holy marriages are something that we need more in this world! As Sacred Scripture beautifully intimates, earthly marriage is an icon of the union between Christ and His Bride, the Church (cf. Ephesians 5:25). It is the first school of living, a “community of life” where we are brought into the world and nurtured (Familiaris Consortio § 37). Pope Francis reiterated some of these points in his message to the 20 newly married couples last weekend at St. Peter’s: “Marriage” is a demanding journey, at times difficult, and at times turbulent, but such is life! Marriage is a symbol of life, real life: it is not “fiction”! It is the Sacrament of the love of Christ and the Church, a love which finds its proof and guarantee in the Cross.”

But there are also other ways of living an integrated human life, of growing in sanctity, of the many paths to sainthood.  The different vocations all nourish and refer to each other: without strong families, where would vocations come from? And without holy Priests, Sisters, and Brothers, how can families flourish?

What can we do in the meantime? First, let us pray for the upcoming Synod on the Family in October 2015. We must also pray in our churches during Mass for Holy Marriages. We must advocate for a renewal of family life, pray for purity of heart, and implore God for healing from the broken forms of living in our culture. Most importantly, we must love our families. Mother Teresa was once asked, “What can we do to promote world peace?” She answered, “Go home and love your family.” Sometimes it is not in great deeds, lofty prayers, or in eloquent writings that we change the world; rather, it may be the little tasks, the quiet prayers at bedside, and the saying of grace at mealtime that affects eternity. Moreover, no matter what form of life we may be called to, in doing this, we will learn how to truly love, to forgive, to prepare in this earthly life for that heavenly union with the Divine Family, the Holy Trinity. It was a long time ago, the fruit of many generations, that there lived a little family in Nazareth. They did not have much in the way of material means, but they were rich in faith, hope, and love for each other. It was this that changed the world forever: “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men.” (cf. Luke 2:51-52)

3. The Recommitment of the Religious in The Year of the Consecrated Life  

The Church is in the Year of Consecrated Life. Pope Francis wishes that  all the consecrated men and women to recapture and rediscover their passion for God, passion for Christ, passion for humanity, passion for the Church and passion for the poor during this year. The Holy Father also invites the religious to go back to their sources and drink deeply from the life giving streams of their own original Charisms and ask themselves whether they are really living true to the spirit and apostolic drive of their Founders and Foundresses, evaluating their ministries to see if these really respond effectively to the needs of the Church and the whole humanity today.  The Pope also says that the Religious should be “experts in communion and specialists in encounter”. We cannot but make this call of the Supreme Pontiff our own and encourage the Religious to deepen their call, consecration and commitment. We wish to reaffirm our conviction that Religious Life is a gift of the Lord to the Church and to the world. A gift is also a task and the task of the Religious is to be a leaven at the heart of the Christian community and to be fires that kindle other fires everywhere. This calls for a continual renewal. The real fire that must burn is at the mystical level. This mystical core is the Heart! Not the physical organ but the spiritual core. Unless the heart is touched no change occurs. Therefore, it is not so much information to the head as a strong inspiration to the heart that is the key to spiritual renewal. Here at the mystical core the fire burns like in a furnace, and from there the energy emerges influencing the outer layers of affectivity, reason and senses. This mystical energy makes us powerful messengers of the Gospel.

Renewal is not some sort of repairing, rebuilding and renovating external structures to make them appear as if they are new, original and fresh.  Rather, renewal is recapturing the original spirit; restoring the original form; reviving the original dream; and rekindling the original fire.  We need to heed the call of the Word of God: “Be sure to keep alive in your hearts the message heard from the beginning.” (1 Jn. 2:24) or “Fan into flame the gift which God gave you when I laid my hands on you.” (2 Tim. 1:6). Both John and Paul speak of a gift received from God. John refers to faith and Paul to vocation.  Both are aware of the need for nurturing, guarding, protecting, feeding. Seeds need nurturing. Plants need protecting. Faith needs strengthening. Vocation needs deepening. Fervour needs rekindling.  It is our general experience that the original spirit cools. Very often, the original Charism becomes institutionalized.

This relentless trend towards fossilization has not spared the Church or the religious life. Vatican II was summoned by Pope John XXIII precisely for the purpose of a comprehensive renewal of the Church. He called it “aggiornamento”. The great document of the Council on Religious Life, Perfectae Caritatis gave a clarion call to all religious families to go back to their origins, recapture the original spirit and vision of their founders, return to their original charism and then adapt them to present realities. Every religious family begins as a movement. These movements are harnessed and channelized. They bear fruit in apostolic works and institutions. Unfortunately, an unintended side effect emerges. Very soon what began as a powerful movement becomes domesticated and diluted into a tame institution where external structures acquire greater importance than inner spirit. As years go by we tend to forget, lose the original drive. We let the original spring to dry up, become empty, and to take a different direction. Hence, there is a need for constant renewal. How?  Not so much in external structures, but in the inner renovation of spirit, which involve deeper internalization, personalization and living out the original inspiration of the Founder/Foundress. The external is important. The external is the expression and the embodiment of the interior. Inner experience and external expression have to be in dialectic tension. One cannot do without the other.  Without the external expression the inner experience dries up very fast. Without the inner experience the external expression is an empty shell, like the body without the soul – dead!

When we speak of renewal, we have to take into account the three main components of individual religious, religious community and the entire Congregation. Also different areas of our religious life are to be considered, in particular, the apostolic dimension, namely Evangelization in the sense of making Christ known, loved and followed. Spiritual renewal cannot be brought about by compulsion and command. It has to be a gift of grace. It has to be received. It is a result of our response to the inner call of the Spirit. God has to invade our inmost self. When this happens we manifest the life of God and become witnesses to the triumph of grace and the transformative action of the Holy Spirit.  Then indeed we will be true evangelizers. When we truly live our religious consecration, we become visible signs to the People of God that a life of total dedication to God in Christ is possible and that itself becomes a call to them to live their Christian vocation as generously as possible. When the Church becomes thus renewed she truly becomes Lumen Gentium (Light of the Nations) inviting every man, woman and child to share life in Christ.

Conclusion

These, then, are the three major themes that exercised our minds at the recent meeting of the Bishops of Karnataka. Each of these three themes holds out much promise and many challenges. Let us identify and rejoice at the good that is in our national life, in our family life and our religious life. At the same time, with the help of God’s grace, under the guidance of the Church and in communion with all Christians, let us together face the challenges and discover new and creative responses to our difficulties.

May Mary, our dearest Mother, help us to “do whatever he (Jesus) tells us (Jn, 2:5). May she continue to be a role model for our spiritual renewal, and Christian and religious witnessing.

May I implore the good Lord to shower on each one of you plentiful graces and blessings in this holy season of Lent, and may I, on behalf of the Bishops of the Region, take this opportunity to wish all of you a blessed and joyful Easter.

This Pastoral Letter was officially released on 4th March, 2015.

 Yours sincerely in Christ,

 

Bernard Moras

Archbishop of Bangalore

And President - KRCBC 

 
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