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Catholic religious in India to collaborate for better future

Drastic fall in vocations and rise in the number of elderly members pose a challenge to Indian congregations
Members of the Conference of Religious India take part in a brain-storming session at an annual conference.

Members of the Conference of Religious India take part in a brain-storming session at an annual conference. (Photo: crinational.org)

Published: May 17, 2024 11:17 AM GMT
Updated: May 17, 2024 12:03 PM GMT

Superiors of Catholic religious congregations of men and women in India have stressed the need for inter-congregational collaboration for the betterment of the Church amid increasing hostility against Christians.

The Conference of Religious India (CRI), the national body of major superiors of Catholic religious congregations, heard several such calls at its May 14-17 gathering in Bengaluru, a southern Indian city.

“When we come together, it not only helps us promote innovation and creative thinking among ourselves but also helps us effectively address several pressing problems,” said Apostolic Carmel Sister Maria Nirmalini, the forum president.

“We find the need to enhance inter-congregational collaboration for better networking,” Nirmalini told UCA News on May 17 on the sidelines of the conference, which was held after a six-year hiatus.

Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore asked the gathering to contemplate strategies to arrest the increasing persecution of Christians in the country.

After the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Narendra Modi became prime minister of the country in 2014, violence against Christians increased, Christian leaders say.

There were 147 cases of violence against Christians in 2014. However, the figures spiraled to 687 incidents in 2023. Nearly 531 cases occurred in four northern states -- Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Haryana, where Modi’s party enjoys considerable clout.

Eleven out of 28 Indian states, mostly ruled by BJP, have enacted sweeping anti-conversion laws ironically naming them as “freedom of religion acts.” The draconian law is often used against Christians.

Attacks on Christians were discussed at the meeting, Sister Nirmalini said.

In his keynote address, Archbishop Machado, who has filed a case in India’s top court to end violence against Christians, asked the congregations to become a beacon of hope among the vulnerable.

Shedding light on the rising persecution, the prelate urged them to envisage how innovative and relevant ministries could be evolved to reach out to the poor.

India’s Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli exhorted religious men and women to work in tandem with the local Church.

Girelli acknowledged the enormous contributions made by religious congregations throughout the length and breadth of the country.

More than 600 religious men and women, including major superiors, superiors, and other designated delegates, participated in the meeting with the theme: “Journeying with Hope: Relevance and our Prophetic Response.”

Nirmalini called for inter-congregational efforts as vocations to religious life drastically declined in India.

She said their religious men and women “are getting old.” We can “pool our resources” to take care of them, citing the findings of a survey conducted in July 2023.

“Many congregations lack facilities, resources, and manpower to look after their elderly. Everyone will benefit from this collaboration,” the Apostolic Carmel nun added.

The CRI under Nirmalini has initiated a healthcare program for elderly nuns after the survey found that 64 percent of nuns were elderly or infirm. Nearly 190 congregations participated in the survey.

More than 61 percent of the elderly nuns are retired because of physical inability, the survey said.

The survey found that 40 percent of the participating congregations had no facility to look after their elderly.

The meeting stressed the need for priests, brothers, and sisters to spare time for the youth and families rather than spend time in institutionalized jobs.

“We need to go the people in the periphery,” Sister Nirmalini noted.

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2 Comments on this Story
The common charism is to serve Christ in the needy. Short-sighted people compete. Far-sighted people collaborate.
This is alarming, but not surprising. If 64% of nuns are incapacitated it will be a huge drain on the services and finances of these congregations. It will be a logistical nightmare. About 60 years ago we had the scandal of nun-runnign when unscrupulous priests in India were sending girls from poor families to European convents, where they worked as cheap labour. In Europe many convents and monasteries have been converted into bed and breakfast home stays for tourists. They even have their own website for Monastic Stays. India is quickly sliding down the same path. Tragic and myopic.
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