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Catholic journalists seek greater impact in northern India

Although a small minority, Christians can solidify their presence through the media, they say

Catholic journalists seek greater impact in northern India

Efforts by Christians to engage in media and journalism can help solidify the Christian presence in northern India, communications leaders said.

The Christian presence in Hindi-speaking northern states remains less than 1 percent, but the religious faith's profile can be raised through more involvement in the media and the press, speakers said at the first northern regional conference of the Indian Catholic Press Association, held Sept. 27-28 in Agra. About 60 people attended.

"The meeting is aimed at strengthening grassroots media that are already existing in this part of the nation," said Bishop Salvadore Lobo of Baruipur, chairman of the Indian bishops' office for social communication.

Agra, the 16th-century capital of Mughal emperor Akbar, is considered the starting point for Christianity in northern India. Three Portuguese Jesuit priests reached Akbar's court in 1580. Later, Akbar offered land in which a church was built in 1598.

Despite centuries of work, "Christians remain a minuscule minority" but "if we uphold Christian values, our presence can be highlighted here," said Bishop Lobo, who presided at a Mass in the centuries-old church, now known as the "Akbar Church."

The five southern states and seven northeastern states together account for some 76 percent of India's 27.8 million Christians. The rest are spread across 17 states in north and western India, where Hindi is the prominent language.

"We have a lot of work ahead to make the church known in the Hindi-belt," Bishop Lobo said, adding that the "reading habit is increasing in the region" and that there is a need for books and literature in the region.

Chotebhai, a senior Catholic lay leader who uses one name, noted that the "church in north India is a transplanted church," with most Catholics coming from south and western regions of India. The "minuscule local Christians are strangers in their own land" because the church is culturally and hierarchically not local. Therefore, the church "has become insular and isolated," he said.

Father Alfonso Elengikal, head of the national press association, said that ultimately Catholic media must be an evangelical tool.

"It is a question of how we challenge society with Christian values. It can be done by people of Christian values increasingly taking part in all kinds of media — literature, journalism and audio-visual mass media," he said.

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The meeting was part of his association's move to help develop regional journalists and encourage them, Father Elengikal said.

He said Catholic journalists needed to immerse themselves in the local regional languages in order to have any impact in their communities. Most of India's 29 states have a unique media and literature based on its language, although Hindi remains the dominant media language across northern India.

The Indian Catholic Press Association is an organization of Catholic newspapers, periodicals, news agencies, publishing houses, journalists and teachers of journalism. It is one of the oldest Catholic press associations in Asia.

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