MUMBAI, India – As the Church observes World Mission Sunday, Christians in India are being reminded that the great commission of Jesus to make “is a basic, vital, perennial constituent of the Church.”

World Mission Sunday falls on the penultimate Sunday in October, this year being Oct. 23. It is the one Sunday in the year when the Mass is celebrated exclusively for missionary activity. The theme this year is “You shall be my witnesses,” taken from the Book of Acts.

Father Ambrose Pitchaimuthu, the National Director of the Pontifical Mission Organizations in India, acknowledged the faithful at times “may fail to see credible role models among priests and consecrated persons who can challenge and inspire them to proclaim the joy of the Gospel with one another.”

“The recent scandals in some parts of our country have terribly tarnished the image of the Church in India especially for people of other faiths who may already regard her mission as suspicious,” he said.

India is a majority Hindu nation where Christians make up just 2.3 percent of the population, or around 28 million people. Christians often face harassment, discrimination, and even outright persecution by Hindu nationalists, who accuse missionaries of “illicit conversion.”

“The growing incidents of violence and attacks on priests and religious, churches and institutes, have created a fear psychosis among Christians today. Parents are at times afraid of sending their children particularly to the mission territories of our country,” the priest said.

Pitchaimuthu claimed “there have been planned efforts to tarnish the good image of love and service of the Church and Church personnel.”

“Sometimes situations are created to entice priests and the religious into controversial debates and their inputs misused later as an exposure on panel discussions. At other times, they are dragged into the hands of anti-Christian and anti-Catholic movements misinterpreting their humanitarian enthusiasm. Even little faults can prove fatal when exaggerated on mainstream or social media,” he noted.

The priest said that in this atmosphere, “the Church is more pastoral than evangelizing.”

“Pope Francis’s Church for the poor and of the poor would be the most powerful witness to the good news of Christ Jesus. We are in need of persons like Mother Teresa who translated the Christ’s message into action in a quiet yet tangible way than many others who tried to assert the uniqueness and nobility of the Christian message through intellectual gymnastics,” Pitchaimuthu told Crux.

“In this contextual situation, mission cannot be conceived as it may have been traditionally perceived so far. One needs to understand mission in a new dimension taking into consideration these contextual situations. We cannot deny the fact that the Church has addressed all of the above realities at different points in time. However, this is to continue the journey of transforming the Catholic Church into a missionary church,” he said.

However, the priest said the Church must also work to improve itself to be more effective witnesses.

“There is an erosion of credibility among some priests and consecrated persons because some of our institutions – educational, medical, etc. – may appear to be money-making enterprises and seeking academic excellence at the cost of Christian values,” he said. “Advertently or inadvertently, some Christian institutions also get entangled in the competing scenario, where success alone matters and not the means.”

Pitchaimuthu also spoke about “burdens of the past” that still affect the Church in India, such as casteism, tribalism, race-distinction, and the competition between the different rites.

The priest said this can “create a kind of mental block for Christ-seekers and faith-watchers, making our approach for the propagation of the faith as also coming from the same fervor.”

“This also has adverse effects, even suspicion of intent, during our out-reach programs,” he said.

He noted that there are two models to inspire the Church in India: Saint Devasahayam, a martyr from India, canonized on May 15, 2022; and Blessed Pauline Jaricot, a young French woman, beatified on May 22.

“Saint Devasahayam, out of love for Christ, sacrificed his life. Blessed Pauline Jaricot, despite her ill health, along with the fervent prayers, she gathered financial resources for mission. The former became witness to Christ through his blood, while latter bore witness through prayer and financial assistance for mission. The Holy Spirit, which inspired the apostles, continues to inspire us, as it has inspired these great persons,” he said.

“They teach us that our mission has a humble beginning in our life.”