Can Indian Bishops Turn Prophetic Like US Counterparts?

I was delighted to read the Matters India report about Pope Francis calling Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, on June 3.

The US bishop had joined a demonstration against racial discrimination to pray for George Floyd, an African-American killed by a police man in Minneapolis. Pope Francis wanted to congratulate Bishop on his prophetic action to express solidarity with those who were protesting.

Along with a group of priests of his diocese Bishop Seitz knelt for nine minutes of silent prayer in memory of Floyd. Indeed it was a prophetic act of solidarity by a Catholic bishop.

Church leaders of different denominations showed prophetic courage to criticize President Donald Trump for making statements against protesters. They also criticized him for misusing the Church for a photo session holding a Bible. President Trump doesn’t practice peace, forgiveness and sensitivity taught by the Bible. This was symbolically seen when he held the Bible upside down.

Pope Francis also called Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, the president of the US bishops’ conference to encourage the prophetic stand the Church leadership has taken in that country. Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Minneapolis also communicated the good wishes and prayers of Pope to the people who suffer injustice and discrimination.

All this made me think of the Church in India. In natural calamities like cyclone, earthquake and tsunami the Church is prompt in reaching out with relief to the suffering. However I had been watching the response of the Church in situations where human rights are violated and innocent people are killed in communal riots.

Immediately after Hindutva forces pulled down the mosque in Ayodhya December 6, 1992, communal violence erupted all over India. Hundreds and thousands were massacred all over India. Earlier, after Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984, thousands of Sikhs were murdered.

In I993, serial bomb blasts in Bombay city killed hundreds and injured many more. Over 2,000 people were brutally murdered in Gujarat violence in 2002.

The Church in India was silent and indifferent on such occasions. Not even a statement of condemnation of violence was issued from the Church. No pastoral letters were issued asking the clergy, religious and laity to work for peace and reconciliation.

Their logic for their silence: “The problem is between Hindus and Muslims or Sikhs. Why should we interfere and get into trouble?”

Almost every day we hear how girls and women are raped and murdered. We witness how the fringe groups of cow vigilante and mob mercilessly lynch Muslims, Dalits and tribals. Many such atrocities take place all over India. Why doesn’t the Church speak up against these atrocities and human right violations? Why do the innumerable social workers and lawyers in the Church keep silence?

Even when the Hindutva forces led by Sangh Parivar burnt down and vandalized more than 390 church institutions, forced more than 50,000 people to flee for life in Odisha the Church in India was silent . There was no sign of solidarity among the Christians at the national level.

There were a few isolated protests attended by a small number of people. The priests and religious in other parts of the country continued their routine chores. There was no serious consultation at the national level to prepare new strategies and action plans to deal with the situation. Some were doing the routine visits to government offices, having regular photo sessions and socializing with ministers and bureaucrats.

Apart from the 2008 Kandhamal violence attacks are taking place on the Church institutions, and priests and religious regularly. Yet there is no serious effort from the Church leadership or from other Church organisations at the national and local level to make a review of the situation and prepare strategies and action plans to make the mission of the Church relevant in the fast changing sociopolitical scenario. The Church in India is like an Ostrich putting it’s head in the sand and remain complacent without knowing the dangers at hand.

What motivates Pope Francis for his proactive and trendsetting actions and statements is his call consciousness to be “a prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:4). This consciousness of being called to be a “prophet to the nations” prompted Bishop Seitz to join the demonstration against racial discrimination.

This same call consciousness of being prophetic prompted other Church leaders in the US to express solidarity with those who were demonstrating. This prophetic spirit made them to admonish the mighty President Donald Trump. They were following the prophetic tradition of John the Baptist who challenged King Herod of his immorality. They followed the example of Jesus who dared to lambaste the Jewish hierarchy of their hypocrisy

Some of the nuns who participated in the public demonstration were punished by their superiors. Persuasion to practice peace, forgiveness and reconciliation was rejected by those in authority. The Church still follows the Jewish tradition of murdering the prophets in a different style…

Prophetic actions will emerge only when one is contemplative. Contemplation on the life and teachings of Christ demands applying them to the present context. The Church has become too noisy with loud prayers and singing amplified through loud speakers as if God is deaf.

The Church in India can reinvent and make relevant again only when bishops, priests and the religious start reflecting on their call and vision as prophet to the nations, salt of the earth, light of the world and follow the leadership model of the Good Shepherd.

I wish and pray that the Church leadership in India follow the prophetic model of Pope Francis and US bishops. Will the Church leaders, priests and religious wake up and explore the possibilities of “putting new wine in new wineskins.”

– Varghese Alengaden