MUMBAI, India – Catholics in India are exploring the role of marginalized people in the local Church as it uses synodality.

A two-day national conference on “Synodal Church: Voice of the Marginalized” was organized at the Indian Social Institute in Bengaluru on February 16–17. The conference jointly coordinated by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the Office for Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes, and the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council’s Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

“The purpose of the conference is for the implementation of Dalit Empowerment policy of CBCI which was released in 2016,” said Father Z. Devasagaya Raj, the former national secretary of the CBCI Office for Dalits and Backward Classes.

“Still, the leadership of Dalits in Indian church is not properly represented.  Synod involves the voice of the marginalized. Even the CCBI does not have a commission for scheduled castes [people in India belonging to marginalized groups]. There was also a serious concern that the voice of the Dalits is strangled when it reaches Vatican,” he told Crux.

However, the priest acknowledged the participants expressed their joy for the appointment of Archbishop Anthony Poola of Hyderabad at the first Dalit Cardinal.

Dalits, previously known as “untouchables,” are the lowest stratum of the castes in the Hindu system in India.

“The very focus of the Synodal Church is mission, communion, and participation. All should be included in the mission of the Catholic Church so that no one is left behind in this process, especially the voice of the marginalized, who should be heard and participate in the Church,” Poola said in his address.

“But the Dalits in India and the diaspora have been alienated and discriminated against in the Church for centuries. The untouchable practices in the Church make the sons and daughters of the soil be treated unequally. Separate churches, cemeteries, hearse carts, and proportionate justice are denied at the decision-making level at all levels of the Church administration,” the cardinal said.

“The main focal point of the Synodal Church is not realized in the life and faith of the Dalit Christians. We are here today to speak about the challenges we have endured all these years and to uproot the sinful nature of casteism in the Church,” he continued.

So, we, the Dalit Christians, are called to promote the values of an inclusive Church and knock on the doors of the hierarchy to work for the kingdom of God, which is to implement the CBCI’s Dalit Empowerment Policy-2016, to establish the Dalit Desk in the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, to promote Dalit leadership at the ecclesial and ecclesiastical levels of the church, and ultimately to remove casteism,” the cardinal added.

“This must be responded to by the Synod and implemented to form the synodal in the future. The Synodality is discussed in the Synod of the bishops, and it will focus on the plights of the marginalized, the Dalits, the tribals, the indigenous, the Blacks, etc.,” Poola said.

In a statement, the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM) said it would be a “farce of the Synodality journey” by the Catholic Church in India if it does not address the discrimination against Dalit Christians and put an end to it.

“This Synodality Process in India has become only a further opportunity to the hierarchy and clergy to eclipse the historical caste domination and discrimination against Dalit Catholics. Yet, doing this, they repeatedly say that they are guided by the Holy Spirit. Their lips and tongues speak of the Holy Spirit, but their minds and hearts work with the caste spirit! That is why the discrimination against Dalits in the Church continues unabated,” said Prof. Dr. M. Mary John, the President of the DCLM.

“The hierarchy has no conscience to this people and their rights are plundered, yet, their voice for justice is maligned as a hindrance to a peaceful Church. For them peace means silence in the face of injustice,” John said, adding, “Of course, there are other concerns like equality for women in leadership, lay Catholics equal participation, etc which are important. But the concern for Dalits justice, rights and equality will be neglected, rather deliberately as usual.”