MUMBAI, India — Stating that his visit to India was “prayer, pilgrimage, and pastoral,” the Archbishop of Canterbury – leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion – took time to encourage political leaders to maintain the country’s commitment to religious freedom.
On Sunday, after celebrating a service in Kolkata’s St. Paul’s Cathedral – belonging to the Church of North India, an Anglican province – Archbishop Justin Welby said that India “has the incredible tradition of diversity of faiths within its history and in its ancient civilization.”
Speaking to journalists in the bishop’s house, Welby noted the Indian constitution “provides for all freedom of religion and belief.”
“So it is deeply in the law… it is deeply in the culture…. And as a religious leader, I would want to encourage all political and religious leaders to seek fairly the maintenance” of religious freedom, he said in response to a question from The Telegraph, a Kolkata-based newspaper.
“Christians in India have a tradition of 2,000 years,” Welby said. “India has the great heritage in history,” he continued. “The values guaranteed in the sections dealing with freedom of religion and belief were essential for the country to flourish in future.”
At the same time, the Anglican leader said he came to India “not as a political leader but as a religious leader.”
“I am here to pray with the Christians, to learn about the ancient churches of this country, to learn about Christianity in India and share the experiences with the Christians,” Welby said.
Welby arrived in India on Aug. 31 for a 10-day visit to the country, where only around 2.5 percent of the population is Christian. Despite Britain’s long colonial history in India, only about 1 in 6 Christians belong to the two Anglican-affiliated provinces – the Church of North India and the Church of South India. The majority of Christians in the country are Catholic.
On his final day in the country, Welby visited the Jallianwala Bagh memorial in Amritsar, the site of a 1919 British massacre of more than 300 peaceful Indian protesters.
“I cannot speak for the British government. I am not an official of the British government but can speak in the name of Christ. It is a place for sin and redemption. Because you have remembered what they have done and their name will live, their memory will live,” he said.
When asked if he would seek an apology from the British government, Welby said, “I think I have been very clear about what I feel and that will be broadcast in England,” the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Material from the Associated Press was used for this report.
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