DAILY CATHOLIC FRI-SAT-SUN November 5-7, 1999 vol. 10, no. 210
NEWS & VIEWS
INDIA IS CHURCH'S GREAT HOPE IN ASIA
Largest Number of Seminarians in World
VATICAN CITY, NOV 4 (ZENIT).- Tomorrow, John Paul II begins a decisive pilgrimage to India, with the primary purpose of signing the Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Asia" (Church in Asia) which reflects the conclusions of the Synod of Bishops for Asia.
But the Pope's second visit to India will also be of significant importance for the life of Christians in the Indian subcontinent, with a population of one billion inhabitants. This is the third papal trip to India; the first was Pope Paul VI's in 1964.
When John Paul II arrives in New Delhi tomorrow, he will have been preceded by a protest march organized by the fundamentalist World Hindu Council. The march, which covered 1,600 kilometers, began on October 20. The marchers are protesting Christian evangelization, which -- they believe, is causing numerous conversions in the country.
Tension Relaxed During the hours immediately preceding the Pontiff's arrival, Archbishop Alan Basil de Lastic of New Delhi, president of the Episcopal Conference, emphasized that the atmosphere is positive and in keeping with Indian traditional hospitality. In fact, he believes that the peaceful coexistence between Hindus and Christians is what is true in India, quite apart from extreme cases that have sporadically manifested themselves.
According to the Archbishop of New Delhi, the recent protests only affect small groups and, given the fact that India is a democratic country, they have freedom of speech. Fr. Dominic Emmanuel, spokesman of the Episcopal Conference, said that the Catholic community feels no rancor toward anyone: "Love and forgiveness are part of the Catholic faith," he said.
Vocations Potential This positive attitude of the Catholic Church, in spite of attacks, also explains the amazing spiritual life of these Christian communities. Numerically, their presence seems insignificant. In fact, Catholics are less that 2% -- some 20 million out of a total population of one billion. However, today India is the Catholic Church's principal seedbed of vocations. There are 10,000 minor seminarians and 10,000 major seminarians in India. Far behind are the Philippines and Poland, with 7,000 major seminarians, and Italy with 6,299.
Open Persecution Observers of the Indian scene stress that this Christian awakening is taking place precisely in an environment of persecution. Over the last two years, there have been a number of priests and religious killed. In the state of Orissa, for example, which is 1,200 kilometers from New Delhi, in recent months Hindu fundamentalists have killed two missionaries and wounded their collaborators. A nun was tortured and raped on September 23 in the city of Chiapra. Her torturers said: "Christians will be taught a lesson after the elections to the federal Parliament."
The important winner of the parliamentary elections, which ended on October 5, was the nationalist coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress Party, led by Sonia Gandhi, suffered a harsh defeat. Given that the BJP needs the support of parties representing minorities in order to govern, the Christians believe the government will moderate the aggressive tone of some of its leaders during the electoral campaign.
Conclusion of Synod for Asia John Paul II is convinced that the Third Millennium must result in Asia's evangelization, the most populous continent of the world, but the one where -- in many countries, Christ is unknown, although this is not the case in the Philippines and Vietnam. It is no accident that the Pontiff wished to close the Asian Synod in a country that has become the seedbed of conversions to Catholicism and of vocations to the religious and priestly life.
Full Agenda During his brief but intense visit to New Delhi, John Paul II will meet with Asian Bishops on the occasion of the signing of the synodal document. The culminating moment will be on November 6, with the closing Mass of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Asia. On November 8, the Holy Father will recite the Angelus in the stadium dedicated to deceased Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi, and he will meet with representatives of other religions and Christian denominations.
In addition to visiting with India's political authorities, the Pope will
also pray at the funerary monument erected in memory of Mahatma Gandhi.
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NEWS & VIEWS