Question: Savio D’Crux
Pope Francis refers continuously to the marginalized and marginalization and the need to be with the marginalized people. What is it to be marginalized and to be a marginalized Christian in the context of India?
Answer: Jacob Parappally MSFS
The Preamble of the Universal Charter of Human Rights declared by the UN in 1948 states that the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Further, its first and second articles affirm, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood (Art1). Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” (Art.2). This is the Magna Carta of Human rights accepted and adopted by all nations under the UN. However, the violations of human rights continue in all nations in one form or another.
In every nation various sections of the society experience discrimination, marginalization and all types of violation of their inalienable human rights. In India which is proud of being the largest democracy in the world human rights violations and every possible type of discriminations and marginalizations are taking place almost every hour according to human rights watch reports. The Church which believes, lives and proclaims the equality and dignity of every human person as a child of God cannot claim that it is free from the sin of discrimination and marginalization in its attitude and behaviour towards some sections of the members of the Church and the society. Pope Francis is calling the attention of every Christian believer to this grave sin of marginalization and discrimination that go against the fundamental Christian faith-experience of God in and through Jesus Christ when he constantly refers to acts of marginalization and the situation of the marginalized which question our Christian faith.
Marginalization of Humans an Affront to God
Pope Francis speaks often about all types of marginalization because it cannot co-exist with one’s faith-experience of God in Jesus Christ. By God becoming human God has revealed that humans and the entire cosmos are of great value. It is also the fundamental Christian faith that humans are created in the image and likeness of God, the Trinity or Absolute Communion. Therefore, every human being is an image of God, the Trinity. Therefore, every human being is to be respected, recognized, accepted and loved. It is the God-given right of every human being to preserve, nurture and unfold his/her personhood in freedom fostering right relationship with God, other humans and the world. Any form of marginalization is a way of excluding other humans from the main-stream of the society and a cruel way of denying them their dignity as humans by individuals or groups or the structures and systems of a society.
Marginalization of humans takes away the foundational Christian experience of God and the self-understanding of humans in relation to God and their world. Therefore, addressing the new Cardinals Pope Francis says, “My brothers, as we look to Jesus and our Mother, I urge you to serve the Church in such a way that Christians — edified by our witness — will not be tempted to turn to Jesus without turning to the outcast, to become a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it. I urge you to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is marginalized, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith, or say that they are atheists; to see the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper — whether in body or soul — who encounters discrimination! We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized! May we always have before us the image of St Francis, who was unafraid to embrace the leper and to accept every kind of outcast.Truly, dear brothers, the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is at stake, is discovered and is revealed!” (At Mass with new cardinals created at consistory, Feb. 15, 2015). The Pope’s statement that we will not find the Lord unless we accept the marginalized is a strong expression of the fundamental Christian faith-affirmation that every human being is an image of God the Trinity and that God became human and lived among us as a human. It is also against the theological insight that every human is a manifestation of Christ in her or his own way – a Christophany! When the Church fails to be with the marginalized or those who are forced to be on the periphery of the society and fails to struggle with them to overcome their marginalization, it fails Christ and his cause and abandons the reason for its own existence. It is an insight into the mission of the Church that impels Pope Francis to speak on the issue of marginalization continuously with strong conviction and undaunted courage to conscientize the Christian faithful.
Marginalization of Christians
Until the time of Constantine’s declaration of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire in 313 AD it was a movement of the marginalized. Though there were some nobles and rich people in the movement, the Christian movement predominantly consisted of the so called hoi polloi or the ordinary people and slaves. Thus it was a thoroughly marginalized and persecuted section of the society. When it became a religion of power and position in the Roman Empire some of the Church leaders themselves marginalized the Jews and people of other religious and ideological persuasions. Within the Church itself there was marginalization of women following the untenable practice of ritual purity borrowed from the Jewish religion. Though in the course of time such marginalization in the name of ritual purity and impurity has been overcome to a great extent in the Latin Church, the Oriental Churches are not completely free from this attitude expressed in one way or another justifying it with an uncritical approach to Scripture and theology. One may find even biblical justification for slavery and apartheid and indeed it was the case till they were abolished because of enlightened understanding of the mystery of human person and the recognition of the inalienable rights of human beings. Though the Church is holy, being the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, yet its existence as pilgrim Church in a sinful and corrupt world, has its weakness and sinfulness which need to be blotted out through constant conversion and grace of God. Some members of the Church and some structures of the Church continue to marginalize women and other weaker sections of the society. Precisely, such unchristian attitudes and practices prompt Pope Francis to condemn in unequivocal terms with prophetic courage any form of marginalization within the Church and in the larger society. He seeks to bring all on the periphery to the centre through his pronouncements and actions both symbolic and real.
Marginalization in the Context of India
There may not be any country in the world where marginalization is institutionalized as in India through its system of caste and caste discrimination and marginalization. The inhuman and demonic practice of Caste system condemns a large majority of people born in India to the periphery of the society depending on the hierarchical position of the caste of the parents in the varna system or in the group of outcasts one is born into. Therefore, except for a privileged few, majority live on the margins. The religious texts are written justifying and supporting this system of marginalization and dehumanization. People of so called dominant castes do not consider that it is an evil and crime against humanity when they marginalize, discriminate and even consider persons of dominated castes or Dalits as not having any human dignity or human rights. Lynching of dalits in the name of protecting cows, sexual abuse of dalit girls and women, refusal to allow dalits to draw water from village wells, denying them the right to walk with footwear on the public path that passes through the villages of dominant castes, or creating dalits ghettos in the periphery of the village are some forms of criminal marginalization practised even today in the Indian society although these forms of discrimination is abolished in the Constitution.
The Christian community experiences marginalization in many states of India where it is a miniscule minority especially in the recent past due to the growth of Hindutva forces in India. False propaganda against minorities in general questioning their patriotism and raising the bogey of conversion, intolerance to their food habits etc. for political ends eventually creates in the minds of the uneducated or ill-informed Hindus suspicions and even hatred towards Christians and Muslims. Those who follow strictly the RSS ideology cannot but marginalize and demonize Christians and Moslems and other minorities as the enemies of the Hindu culture and as second class citizens in India. With caste system, religion sanctions marginalization and the so called cultural organizations like RSS and other fundamentalist groups within the Sangh Parivar practises marginalization following their ideology of discrimination.
The sin of marginalization in the name of caste, gender and class can be found in the Church too. The grave sin of discrimination practised on the basis of caste in some Christian villages, selection and election of leaders both secular and religious, separate places for worship and even for burial and exclusions of persons from various offices and functions due to caste, gender or class are anti-witness to the Kingdom values Jesus preached and for which he gave up his life. Like Pope Francis, the leaders of the Christian community, both ecclesial and secular need to challenge prophetically the practice of discrimination within the Church. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India published the document-Policy of Dalit Empowerment in the Catholic Church in India in December, 2016. One may wonder why it took so many decades after the founding of the CBCI to acknowledge that there is discrimination and marginalization in the Church. It shows that the abominable idol of marginalization had for long occupied and influenced the holy temple of God, the Church! If only other leaders of the Church had the insight into the terrible contradiction of Christian faith one professes and the various forms of marginalization one practises which calls Christian God-experience into question like Pope Francis! Then they too would have denounced it with courage and conviction and taken steps to overcome it. The hope that spurs the marginalized Christians on is that with the power of the Spirit they can rise and affirm their human dignity and God-given right to be human and refuse to be marginalized. There are many signs of it in India and all over the world. That is the beginning of the end of marginalization.