Goa archbishop stirs political hornets' nest

Hindu group accuses Catholic leaders of creating trouble after Ferrao says human rights and democracy are in peril in India
Goa archbishop stirs political hornets' nest

Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa distributes communion. Critics said his pastoral letter on June 2 was targeted against the Indian government run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party. (Photo by Bosco de Souza Eremita)

Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa is facing political criticism for claiming that India's constitution is in danger, but he has earned applause from the laity.

The latest controversy comes a fortnight after Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi was criticized for his comments on the political situation in India.

In a 15-page pastoral letter released on June 2, Archbishop Ferrao focused on Christian concern for poverty but in the last part, while speaking about human rights, he commented on the constitution.

"In recent times, we see a new trend emerging in our country, which demands uniformity in what and how we eat, dress, live and even worship: a kind of monoculturalism. Human rights are under attack and democracy appears to be in peril," he wrote.

The letter said that during election campaigns politicians confuse people with false promises. "Our constitution is in danger," he said.

Archbishop Ferrao referred to the national election due next April and asked Catholics to become active in politics to promote secularism and other values of the constitution. "We must strive to know our constitution better and work harder to protect it," he said.

Although the letter focused on various forms of poverty that need urgent attention, the media picked up sentences and interpreted them as a political appeal to oppose the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that runs the federal government and most states.

Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad accused Catholic leaders in India of acting at the behest of the Vatican to stir up the political atmosphere against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party ahead of the election.

Federal Minorities Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on June 5 said apprehensions about the safety of minorities are misplaced. The constitution and governments protect the rights of minorities, he said.

Referring to the pastoral letter as a fatwa or religious order, he said: "Nobody should make such fatwas and farmaans (diktats) and harbor any misunderstandings."

Inacio Oliveira, a parishioner near Goan capital Panaji, said the letter mentioned the increasing number of migrants and poor because of lopsided development projects but the "media blackened all those out because the media itself has become a part of the rotten system, adopting a type of monoculturalism."

Father Joaquim Loiola Pereira, the archbishop's secretary, said the media had isolated two or three sentences from the letter out of context and made it an issue. "We do not make any further comments and explanations of the letter. If you want, you can read the letter online," he said.

The pastoral letter is signed by the archbishop but is not a product of one mind, the priest said.

The letter reflects the sentiments of secular Indians and the Catholic community, said Brother Eusebio Miranda, editor of church-run weekly Vauradencho Ixxt (Workers Friend). 

Archbishop Ferrao "has stood by his suffering people. His words are akin to Archbishop Romero of Argentina who fell to the bullets. We are happy that he has courageously reflected the sentiments of the Catholic community in particular," Brother Miranda said.

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The previous controversy was sparked when Archbishop Couto launched a year-long prayer campaign ahead of the national election, saying India was facing a "turbulent political future."

Hindu groups and the BJP accused him of undermining Indian interests and working with the Vatican to tarnish the government's image.

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