MUMBAI, India – In a “dynamic and fast-changing” society, the Church in India must embrace “flexibility” in pastoral ministry, according to one bishop in the country.
“Evangelization demands creativity and innovation. God is ever new and ancient,” said Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona at the beginning of this week’s plenary meeting of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI).
(The CCBI is the National Episcopal Conference for the Latin rite Catholics, while the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, or CBCI, is the national conference including all the country’s bishops, including those belonging to the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara eastern rites.)
The theme of the Jan. 7-14 meeting in Chennai is “The Joy of the Gospel” based on Pope Francis’s 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. They have been looking at developing action plans to revitalize the outreach of the Church in India at the diocesan and parish level.
Although considered one of the most religious countries in the world, Dabre said the same secularizing tendency which has affected Western countries is also happening in India.
“Exponential growth of science and technology, ameliorating conditions of life, enhancing health and lifespan are in truth God’s blessings through human inventiveness, skills and imagination. However, these have mistakenly led a growing number of people to pride, and people live as though man can organize his life by his own resources without dependence on God or even denying his existence. This also has fostered a wide-spread materialism, indifference to spirituality, agnosticism, atheism and secularism,” the bishop said during his Jan. 8 address.
He noted the Church’s evangelization must be aimed at three specific groups: Regular members of the community whose faith has constantly to be deepened; estranged Catholics needing to return to the faith community; and new believers belonging to other faiths and cultures.
Christians make up only 2.3 percent of the population of the majority-Hindu country, and the majority of them belong to the Catholic Church.
In addition to the majority Hindus, India also has a large Muslim minority, with other religions including Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains.
“Through my contact with the people of other religions and cultures I see that they are sincere, well-intentioned and deeply spiritual and believe in God from the depth of their hearts. When you genuinely love people and enter into their lives and strike bonds of love you realize that they too are on the path of God. God’s presence, power and the Holy Spirit can well be with them,” Dabre said.
“We cannot presume that we understand what uniqueness really and fully means and implies,” the bishop continued. “Therefore, the role of Jesus, one and only Savior of the world can only be stated in utter humility before the divine mystery.”
Dabre noted the situation in the Catholic Church in India is at “a critical point,” noting low Mass attendance, scandals involving the clergy, divisions within the Church, and a failure to adapt to changing times.
“All this calls for new strategies and approaches and perspectives in the process of evangelization. It would be superficial, simplistic and unrealistic to implement a pre-programmed pastoral ministry,” he said.
During the opening of the plenary meeting, the papal ambassador to India, Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro, said the Church must “attend to the needs of humanity.”
“This assembly is not the gathering of the hierarchies of the Church in India; rather it is a gathering for the witness to the nation. Our unity, collaboration and oneness should prove to the nation that we witness the Joy of the Gospel by our life,” he said.