A file image of Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias at the Vatican on March 9, 2013. (Photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP)
India's Catholic bishops' conference elected Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai as its new president on Feb. 8 at its biannual gathering in the southern city of Bangalore.
Cardinal Gracias, 74, takes over from Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, who led the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), for two terms over the last four years.
Cardinal Gracias takes over at a politically sensitive time India as the country faces national elections next year and provincial elections in several key states this year amid fears of hard-line Hindu groups gaining strength.
"We are all proud of him," Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the conference said of Cardinal Gracias, who is a member of a nine-member team of cardinals Pope Francis chose to help him revamp the Vatican's administration.
"He is the best person available to represent the Indian Church at the Vatican and before the [Indian] government. The bishops look forward to working with him closely," Bishop Mascarenhas said.
Cardinal Gracias, born in Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, was ordained a priest in 1970. He became auxiliary bishop of Mumbai and bishop of Agra, before being named archbishop of Mumbai in 2006. A year later he was named cardinal.
Cardinal Gracias, an expert in church law, is also president of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, the regional forum. He was also president of the CBCI previously.
The conference established in 1944, continues to be an association of bishops of all three rites in India, but not the canonical national conference as Latin rite bishops have their own conference, the CCBI, which Cardinal Gracias also heads, just as the Eastern rite Churches have their own synods.
The Indian conference has 200 bishops, 174 dioceses. Some 132 dioceses belong to the Latin rite, while eastern Syro-Malabar has 31 and the smaller Syro-Malankara rite has 12.