11th Plenary Assembly of the CCBI
held at Hyderabad from 6 to 10 January, 1999
The CCBI to their Faithful, Priests and Religious
“CALLED TO BE A COMMUNITY OF HOPE”
We, the Bishops of the Conference of the Catholic Bishops of India, gathered for the Eleventh Plenary Assembly from Jan.7 –10, 1999 at St. John’s Regional Seminary, Hyderabad, reflected on the mission of the Bishop in the light of the guidelines (Lineamenta) of the 10th ordinary general assembly of the synod of Bishops to be held in Rome next year and the recent papal documents on “the Day of the Lord” (dies Domini) and on “Faith and Reason” (Fides et Ratio). In the spirit of pastoral solidarity, we wish to share with you some of highlights of our meeting.
- Bishop, Servant of the Gospel
In the midst of various challenges and problems of our times, the bishops are to be above all witnesses and servants of the Gospel to instill hope in the minds of the people. Through their ministry, they are to bring hope to all, living in the midst of the world in its complex realities.
The Christian faith is today exposed to many trials, dangers and temptations. The bishops, as leaders of the Church inspired by pastoral charity, after the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd resolve to animate, encourage and nourish, in particular the faithful, through the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. By his death and resurrection, the Lord has conquered all evil, given a new meaning to sufferings and death, and brought to us the fullness of life in communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This Good News fills us all with hope which spurs us to commit ourselves to our tasks and responsibilities with trust and confidence in the Risen Lord. We joyfully give thanks to God, our Father for the growth and dynamism of the Church in India. We urge the faithful, priests and religious to collaborate in the one common mission of the proclamation of the Gospel for the hope of the world.
- Our Response to the atrocities against Minorities
We are deeply concerned about the atrocities perpetrated against the minorities in the country, particularly in the state of Gujarat, by some fundamentalist and communal groups. Further, a systematic campaign of vilification is carried out against Christians, accusing them of forced conversions. We would like to make it clear that we totally reject the whole idea of “forced conversion”, as a contradiction in terms. The Catholic Church explicitly forbids any such practice as also the use of any unbecoming inducements for change of religion.
The present situation is causing an acute sense of insecurity and anxiety, among our suffering brothers and sisters, particularly among the weaker sections of society like the tribals and the dalits. We demand that the government take all necessary measures to ensure security of the above people and bring the perpetrators of violence to book according to the law of the land. This is all the more importance, as what is at stake is not only the freedom and rights of the minorities, guaranteed by the Constitutions, but the cherished values of democracy secularism and the unity if our country, in all its diversity.
We deeply appreciate the openness and the spirit of tolerance among the vas majority of our fellow citizens. We are heartened by the support we have been receiving from the people of goodwill of different religions. These are certainly the signs of the times, calling us to further strengthen “our striving together for national integration and a dynamic solidarity among all people”.
We appeal to our fellow Christians in this hour of trial and tribulation, to draw strength from the crucified Lord and in spite of disturbing trends and serious obstacles, carry on Christ’s mission of love and service for the uplift of the downtrodden, no matter what it may cost, and work towards reconciliation with justice and equality, and communal harmony among all. Let us support one another through our continued prayer and penance in a manner befitting the community of the disciples of the Lord.
We recognize that, in divine providence, the present situation offers us a historic opportunity to enter into a deeper dialogue with all people to dispel misconception and prejudices about our various charitable and humanitarian activities and fulfill our mission of being servants of the Gospel.
On our part, we have denounced the atrocities and demanded from the President and the Prime Minister that adequate measures be taken to ensure the security of the minorities, particularly in the state of Gujarat.
- The Synod for Asia
The special assembly of the Synod for Asia was indeed a unique event in the Church. Some of our bishops, priests, religious and laity were privileged to participate in this Synod and made a significant contribution.
As the Synod has emphasized, our faith in Jesus as the unique mediator of salvation to all peoples urges and impels us to love and serve all people, as Jesus did, so that “they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:1). The best service we can offer people is to share with them Jesus, our most precious treasure.
To bear witness to Jesus, the Church should be seen as a communion at all levels. It becomes alive and vibrant to the full when it is a participatory Church in which every member is empowered and has opportunities to participate in the mission of Christ according to her/ his state of life and charisms given by the Spirit.
Inter-religious dialogue which is very important in Asia demands openness to others, willingness to listen and a desire to respect and understand others in their differences.
The Church in India also needs to promote inculturation in various fields such as theology, liturgy, catechetics, spirituality formation of priests and religious, etc.
In the light of the Synod message, we realized that we have to grow in our appreciation for the traditions, values, customs and cultures of the people of other faiths and promote genuine dialogue with them as also with the poor and the marginalized. In this task, the involvement of the lay faithful is of crucial importance. We urge all our lay faithful to render regular and committed service and ministry in accordance with their specific vocations and charisms.
- The Day of the Lord
The Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter on “Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy” comes as a timely inspiration. In many parts of the world the Lord’s Day is losing its meaning for a growing number of people. We thank God that our faithful still participate in the Sunday Eucharist being the commemoration of the Lord’s Resurrection should flow into our lives, permeating them all along. The Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter offers us valuable helps and precious insights to appreciate the beauty, grandeur and spiritual importance of Sunday: to make the Sunday liturgy more meaningful, inspiring and fruitful enabling us to live the Paschal Mystery is all its dimensions in our day today life. We earnestly exhort the Christian faithful, and priests in particular, to take a keen interest in the Lord’s Day and to sanctify it by a joyful and adequate celebration.
- “Faith and Reason”
We reflected together upon the deep and thought-provoking insights contained in the recent Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father addressed to the bishops on the relationship between Faith and Reason (Fides et Ratio). We deeply appreciate the Pope’s prophetic stand, upholding absolute norms and universal values, very much ignored in our contemporary society.
We consider it remarkable that the Holy Father, while referring to the cultural wealth of the lands of the East, has singled our India for its tremendously rich cultural heritage and highlighted some of its profound and significant aspects, particularly the search for an experience of the Absolute, liberating the spirit from the shackles of space and time and existence in the world of contingencies. This special reference to our country, we feel, should lead all of us, disciples of Christ in India, to consider the task of inculturation as an important ecclesial priority and to re-commit ourselves more vigorously to make the Gospel message and its values more visible and intelligible to our people through a systematic and continuous process of inculturation. A genuine and meaningful inculturation, as the Encyclical points out, demands right discernment in the light of certain criteria and calls for serious research and on-going reflection. We need to take this challenge seriously.
The Plenary Assembly of the Conference of the Catholic Bishops of India was a blessed experience of ecclesial communion in the discernment of the Lord’s will for us as we all seek to carry out His mission in our land. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and through the free, frank and fraternal sharing of the brother bishops we were able to assess the situation and identify the steps and determine the direction we should take.
Hence, as pastors responsible for the flock entrusted to our pastoral care, we appeal to the priests and the religious to show greater interest and renewed vigour to help the Christian faithful at the threshold of the third millennium to be imbued with greater and deeper God experience, greater commitment to Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, and enhanced involvement in the comprehensive mission of the Church.
We also exhort the Christian faithful to come forward to readily collaborate with us in our God given mission as servants of the Gospel to bring hope to the world of today.