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Indian Christians disassociate from leaders over Modi’s Christmas party

In virtual campaign, Christians distance themselves from Church leaders over their silence on anti-Christian violence
Women shout slogans during a 48-hour general strike in Manipur on Sept. 19, 2023. Nearly 200 Christians have died in the sectarian strife in the hilly state. Christian leaders flayed Church leaders for their failure to bring anti-Christian violence to the attention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a Christmas party.

Women shout slogans during a 48-hour general strike in Manipur on Sept. 19, 2023. Nearly 200 Christians have died in the sectarian strife in the hilly state. Christian leaders flayed Church leaders for their failure to bring anti-Christian violence to the attention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a Christmas party. (Photo: AFP)

Published: January 05, 2024 11:07 AM GMT
Updated: January 07, 2024 12:54 AM GMT

Thousands of Indian Christians have distanced themselves from their leaders who attended a Christmas lunch hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, criticizing their silence over the ongoing anti-Christian violence in the country. 

Over 3,000 Christians signed an online signature campaign, saying the Christian leaders, including Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai and several bishops from various Christian denominations, did not represent them at the gathering at Modi’s official residence.

The two-day virtual campaign, “Not in our name,” was started on Jan. 1 by Jesuit Fathers Cedric Prakash and Prakash Louis, and lay Catholic leader John Dayal.

Christian leaders say in 2023 India recorded some 650 cases of violence against Christians. Since Modi came to power in 2014, violence against Muslims and Christians has increased, they argue.

Sporadic violence continues in the northeastern state of Manipur, where more than 200 tribal Christians died and over 50,000 people were displaced in the sectarian flare-up after it started in May 2023.

Rights groups blame pro-Hindu groups that support Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the violence against Christian and Muslim religious minorities.

Modi, who seeks a third consecutive term in this year's parliamentary polls, has never condemned the atrocities against minorities nor has he visited strife-torn Manipur, where a Christian woman was gang-raped and paraded naked in July last year.

Eleven Indian states, most of them ruled by BJP have enacted a sweeping anti-conversion law, which is often used by right-wing fringe elements to target Christians.

The anti-conversion law is used as a weapon against the fundamental right to preach, practice and propagate one’s religion, they say.

The prime minister’s lunch invitation was an opportunity for the Christian leaders “to courteously decline the invite in the light of what has been happening to the Christians in Manipur and elsewhere. Hence, their acceptance of this invite was not in our name,” the campaign letter said.

The Christian leaders thanked Modi “profusely for many things.” But “the hard truth” is that Modi and his government have “consistently disregarded their constitutional mandate, be it to the minorities, the Adivasis, the Dalits, the backward castes, the farmers, laborers, migrants, etc.  Hence, their gratitude to the Prime Minister was not in our name,” it added.

“When these Christian representatives spoke at the reception, they were giving tacit approval to the omission and commission of this government. Hence, their words were not in our name,” said the letter signed by thousands of Christians.

Prakash said they launched the campaign to "register our protest against our Church leaders on record for their silence on the increasing violence against Christians across the country."

The campaign is a symbolic protest against the irresponsible behavior of Church leaders, who, according to Pope Francis, need to have the “smell of the sheep,” the priest observed.

The campaign questioned Modi on his silence on anti-Christian violence across the country especially in Manipur where his party is ruling.

The signatories include Christian parliamentarians, legislators, retired bureaucrats and members of the Conference of Religious Indians.

The campaign would have attracted more signatories had it continued for some more time, observed Prakash, based in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.

Catholic Church leaders have not yet officially responded to the campaign.

Modi is wooing Christians ahead of the national polls next year. On April 9, 2023, Modi visited Sacred Heart Cathedral on Easter Sunday in New Delhi.

Christians make up 2. 3 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people, some 80 percent of whom are Hindus.

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4 Comments on this Story
ISAAC GOMES
Cardinal Oswald Gracias (one of the chief advisers of Pope Francis), Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi, Bishop Paul Swarup of Church of North India’s Delhi diocese, St. Stephen’s College principal John Varghese, Father Kevin J. Kimtis, second secretary of the Vatican Embassy, and Bishop Thomas Mar Antonios of Gurgaon Syro-Malankara Church, and other officials who attended the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, can say that they met him in keeping with the stated ethos of the Catholic Bishop Conference of India’s (CBCI’s) Commission for Dialogue & Ecumenism. These are reproduced from CBCI website as below: 1. Harmony of Faiths, Religions, Ideologies, Perspectives and Ways is the sublime rationale and common goal of human life. A ‘dialogical process’ is the means to achieve that goal. ‘Willingness to unlearn’ and ‘go beyond the already known’ is the sure way to ‘learn the yet to be known’. A ‘culture of cross-cultural relations’ and the ensuing ‘walking together in life’ is the way forward for the humans. 2. “ . . . Dialogue is essential if we are to know, understand and respect one another. But, as experience has shown, for such dialogue and encounter to be effective, it must be grounded in a full and forthright presentation of our respective convictions. Certainly, such dialogue will accentuate how varied our beliefs, traditions and practices are. But if we are honest in presenting our convictions, we will be able to see more clearly what we hold in common. New avenues will be opened for mutual esteem, cooperation and indeed friendship.” Pope Francis, January 13, 2015, Address at the Inter-religious and Ecumenical Gathering Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, Colombo. They can always say they abided by the above-mentioned Pope’s guidelines. However, during Christmas Carol play and the bonhomie with the PM, they conveniently overlooked the Pope's clinching phrase on effective Dialogue which reads: "Dialogue and encounter to be effective, it must be grounded in a full and forthright presentation of our respective convictions." So, burning issues like Manipur were given a studied burial. Secondly, how could Cardinal Oswald and his entourage have shunned the PM’s invitation in view of ongoing criminal cases (reportedly 16) being faced by Cardinal George Alencherry, Bishop Franco Mulakkal Vs nun sex scandal Review Case in Kerala High Court, Criminal cases against Bishop K.A. William, and inexplicable deaths of several young priests and of course nuns in convent wells? There are too many skeletons in their cupboard to hide! A “No” to the PM’s Christmas Party invitation would have meant unwelcome visits by government agencies!! PM knows very well that the Catholic Church of India is not a holy cow. Thirdly, St. Stephen’s College (Premier Christian institution of India which reserves 50% seats for Christian students) Principal John Varghese showered profuse praises on the PM for his visionary National Education Policy (NEP-20). His is a well-known authority on Educational Policy, Educational Administration, English Literature and Media & Communication. Can any of the 3000+ signatories challenge him on what he declared on NEP at PM's party? Hence we witnessed the Quid pro quo arrangement.
MICHAEL NORONHA
It's appropriate to accept the invitation by the PM to celebrate Christmas but the timing is inappropriate aimed at gaining political mileage in the 2024 polls. Christian leaders never had the guts to call a spade a spade. It's always window dressing they resort to. They could have said that Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas also includes the people of Manipur. They should have said Christmas is celebrated every year and not when the lok sabha polls are near. Unfortunately our so called Christian leaders are never interested in protecting the domestic church - the families. They're interested in protecting their buildings - stone walled institutions which earn them money and not the good will of the people. No wonder the poor people, our Christians are tortured and remain voiceless.
CHHOTEBHAI
Simply put it's time for heads to roll in the Indian hierarchy
JOHN MASCARENHAS
NOT IN OUR NAME. this was a momentus occasion/declaration that should have been taken to every parish where parishoners could sign the document after their sunday mass (though i do not know if their parish priests would approve and support). even without the support of the parish priests, men/women of good characters who call a spade a spade, could have been galvanised. copies of such a large scale declaration could have been sent to the archbishops and the pope to show them WE ARE NOT DUMBED SHEEP! THE CURRENT CHURCH LEADERS ARE CORRUPT AND UNLESS THEY ARE DISMISSED, THE INDIAN CHRISTIANS ARE AT THE MERCY OF MODI AND HIS BJP/RSS CRIMINALS. as for varghese from st. stephens, his effusive approval of the pm (who is responsible for the violence/deaths/rapes in manipur and has yet not visited) and support for the new education curriculum that has altered indian history and science, should speak about his capabilites to SUCK!
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