Indian bishops want dialogue to end citizenship law protests

No harm in backtracking and changing controversial law, says Cardinal Gracias
Indian bishops want dialogue to end citizenship law protests

Indian bishops walk to the opening Mass of their biennial meeting on Feb. 13  in southern Indian Bengaluru city. 'Dialogue: The Path to Truth and Charity’ is the theme for the week-long meeting. (Photo provided)

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Indian Catholic bishops have called for dialogue with all sections of people to find an amicable solution to end continuing nationwide protests over a controversial citizenship law .

A biennial gathering of 192 bishops is discussing "Dialogue: The Path to Truth and Charity" as the main theme for the week-long meeting that began on Feb. 13 in Bengaluru city in southern India.

“The bishops are stressing on dialogue very seriously with all sections of society for peaceful and harmonious living in the country,” said Father Cyril Victor Joseph, who is in charge of Bangalore Archdiocese's media commission. “Dialogue is the only way forward."

Protests across India began days after the federal government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) passed the Citizenship Amendment Act on Dec. 11. It aims to grant citizenship to migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan provided they are not Muslims.

In several places, protests have turned violent, claiming the lives of at least 25 people.

Catholic leaders say the the government's law change is part of its goal of turning India into a Hindu-only nation, shrinking the space for religious minorities. They called for caution against about such laws that go against the secular ideals of the constitution.

Several bishops such as Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa and Daman, president of the conference of Latin-rite bishops, called for withdrawal of the controversial law, inviting criticism from right-wing Hindu groups.

Bishop Ferrao said during the current meeting that “we the need to promote nation building even amidst the difficulties that we are facing.”

India's national conference of bishops includes members of all three ritual churches — Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara. While Bishop Ferrao heads the forum of Latin rite, the other two have synods headed by Cardinal George Alencherry of Syro-Malabar and Cardinal Baselios Cleemis of Syro-Malankara.

Bishop Ferrao wants brother bishops to become messengers who “promote brotherhood and peace” and work to construct a “just society” without discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, language or ethnicity among other things.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Bombay and president of the national bishops’ conference, urged bishops to work more on promoting a “culture of life and brotherhood” in the country.

Cardinal Gracias also expressed his serious concern over the BJP-led government’s plan to allow abortion of pregnancies up to 24 months instead of the existing 20 months.

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. The Church has been unwavering in its protection of the sanctity of human life, from conception until natural death. Bishops have the responsibility to spread Christ’s message about the dignity of all human life,” Cardinal Gracias said.

Addressing the media earlier, Cardinal Gracias said dialogue was "the tapestry" in a country like India with different cultures, languages and ethnic diversity.

He also reiterated his reservations about the citizenship law and said dialogue should help find a way to end the ongoing protests.

“There is no harm in backtracking and changing course if it is necessary for the good of the country and our people,” Cardinal Gracias said.

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