03 October 2019
The Church in India: salt and leaven in society
In the month of September, our Dicastery received the Indian bishops on their ad limina visit. In India, the Catholic Church represents a small minority: there are 22 million Catholic faithful in a country of 1.3 billion inhabitants. That is only 1.6 percent! The bishops have reported that the Church is conscious of being a leaven in the midst of Indian society. In fact, despite the small number of the faithful, the Church’s generous commitment within the fields of education, healthcare, social services, in the fight against poverty, and in the promotion of integral human development for the good of all has made the Church an institution that is recognized and appreciated by many. But notwithstanding this prestige, the Church in India remains a target for fringe religious extremists, and thus is not spared abuse, harassment, and violence of every kind.
And yet, with courage and hope, the Church looks ahead, with more determination than ever to confront the numerous religious and cultural challenges that mark Indian society today: from the dismantling of the deeply-rooted caste system to the fight against social inequality; from problems of discrimination against women to widespread illiteracy; from emigration to concern for the younger generations. From a purely religious and ethical perspective, the bishops noted some critical pastoral issues such as the breakdown of families (as exemplified by the growing divorce rate, families broken by emigration, polygamy, domestic violence, and the social phenomenon of ‘
child brides); the numerous attacks on human life (in India there are between 15 and 16 million abortions performed every year); religious syncretism; and an increase in marriages with disparity of cult which, in most cases, puts the faith of the Catholic spouse at risk.
To better respond to these urgent pastoral issues, the Church in India has equipped itself with a well-defined organizational structure at every level. This includes national, regional, diocesan, and parochial bodies, all the way down to what are called “Small Christian Communities.” Then, addressing the specific areas of our competence in this Dicastery, the prelates described the marriage preparation courses offered in a systematic way to all engaged couples, and the various structures of “counseling” available for the pastoral accompaniment of families. In terms of the promotion of women, “things are changing slowly.” They noted the praiseworthy commitment of “Mahila Mandals,” an organization that works with women and girls, especially in rural areas, to offer them training, and tools for financial and nutritional self-sufficiency. Additionally, the bishops’ pastoral solicitude for youth has borne good fruit. One example of this is the movement “Jesus Youth,” born in Kerala but present today in many countries throughout the world.
Even in light of this effective organization and various pastoral successes, there remains much to be done: namely, overcoming clericalism, and building up the laity for the sake of a full and co-responsible participation of the lay faithful in the life and mission of the Church, while paying particular attention to the laity’s engagement in the public sphere.
In the face of these cultural challenges, our Prefect Cardinal Kevin Farrell invited the bishops to resist discouragement. He suggested they focus on the pastoral accompaniment of youth, journeying together with them because often, in moments of difficulty, young people can feel alone and that they lack a network of support. And because preparation for marriage cannot be limited to one course, however well presented it may be, the Prefect proposed the idea of a true “marriage catechumenate” as a path of marriage preparation. Finally, he pointed to a “peer to peer” method as the best means of attaining effective pastoral care of families. “It is necessary,” explained the Cardinal, “to identify and form some couples, so that they themselves are able to accompany other couples.”