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Indian Catholics to pray, fast ahead of national polls

The first phase of the polls to India’s 543-member lower house will take place on April 19 and the last phase on June 1
Christian leaders attend a Christmas event hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Dec. 25, 2023

Christian leaders attend a Christmas event hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Dec. 25, 2023. (Photo: archdiocesedelhi.org)

Published: March 18, 2024 11:08 AM GMT
Updated: March 18, 2024 03:17 PM GMT

Catholic bishops across India have urged their people to pray and fast on March 22, ahead of India’s general elections and rising persecution against Christians in the country.

The intention “is to intercede for our nation especially the forthcoming general elections this year,” said Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).

He wrote to bishops across India on March 14  “to exhort parishioners to unite in prayer for a continuous period of 12 hours.”

The call for a 'national day of prayer and fasting' follows the decision of the last general body meeting of the bishops' conference in February.  

Couto's letter asked Catholics to conduct Holy Mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, rosary, and other liturgy services as part of the special day.

With such prayers, “we align our hearts with the will of God and offer our supplications for the purification of the Church and the well-being of our nation,” Couto's communication said.

The seven-phased polls to elect members to India's 543-seat parliament start on April 19 and conclude on June 1. The results will be declared on June 4.

Simultaneously, elections to the state legislative assemblies of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will also be held, said Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar on March 16.

Archbishop Thomas J. Netto of Trivandrum in southern Kerala state has urged Catholics to observe their fast and prayer as a “gentle form of protest and social action against the rising tide of religious bigotry and worsening prejudice against minorities.”

His March 17 message wanted Catholics to create awareness against rising persecution against Christians and religious intolerance in the country especially after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014.

Modi is seeking a third consecutive term in the polls. Eleven Indian states, most of them ruled by Modi’s party, have enacted sweeping anti-conversion laws that are often used to target priests and pastors.

Violence in Manipur erupted on May 3, 2023,  and is continuing. The rioting mobs have killed more than 175 people, at least 148 of them Christians. 

Violent mobs have also attacked nearly 400 churches and destroyed some 5,000 other Christian properties in the hilly state, where Modi's BJP runs the government.

Incidents of persecution against Christians in the country jumped from 147 in 2014 to 687 in 2023, said Archbishop Netto.

Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore (now Bengaluru) in southern Karnataka has warned against the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, unemployment and crony capitalism.

Critics say the Modi government has subsidized prices of land and natural resources for corporate firms and ignored frauds by favored firms while the public faces increasing cost of living and heavy indirect taxes.

Machado appealed to all political leaders to uphold the basic structure of the Indian constitution and urged citizens to exercise their voting rights responsibly in the forthcoming elections.

He wanted people to elect leaders committed to constitutional values and the welfare of the poor.

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