1996-02-28 00:00:00

The Catholic Bishops´ Conference of India (CBCI) has modified its statutes to accommodate papal directives and recommendations from its own 1994 golden jubilee evaluation.

The revised statutes, which await Vatican approval, envisage a greater role for laity in Church life and recognize the autonomy of the episcopal conferences of India´s three rites.

The revision comes in the wake of a 1987 papal directive on the rites and the conference´s evaluation of its relevance on its 50th anniversary.

The CBCI conference held Feb. 13-21 in Thiruvananthapuram, southern India, approved the statutes following the re-election Feb. 19 of CBCI president Archbishop Joseph Powathil of Changanacherry and all other officers.

Pope John Paul II´s May 27, 1987, letter asked the three rites to set up their own bishops´ conferences and directed the CBCI to continue with "questions of common concern and of a national and supra-ritual character."

Hailed now as "a watershed" in the Indian Church, the letter sought to resolve inter-rite rivalry and help the Church present a united witness to Christ in the multireligious country.

The statutes promise CBCI collaboration with the Catholic Council of India (CCI), a representative body of bishops, clergy, Religious and lay people.

The CBCI will not interfere with rites´ episcopal bodies, but respect their "legitimate autonomy, according to their respective codes," the statutes say, encouraging them to develop and set up commissions useful for their welfare.

The statutes reiterate that CBCI decisions have no "binding force" on member bishops and the national conference will not "limit, prejudice or interfere" with its members.

The CBCI aims to help member bishops with coordinated study of common concerns and national and supra-ritual issues affecting the Church, and to implement a common policy and concerted pastoral plan, the statutes say.

Other aims are promotion of self-renewal, lay participation in Church life, Christian consciousness of social needs, appreciation of values in other Churches and religions, and coordination of missionary activity in India.

The conference also aims to promote "farseeing training" in the use of modern means of social communication and integration of Christian education into "the whole pattern of human life" in India, the revised document says.

For greater lay participation, the CBCI will invite CCI officers to its biennial meetings. It plans in-service training for member bishops every two years, and to also have an orientation course for new bishops in four years.

Besides re-electing Archbishop Joseph Powathil of Changanacherry to a second two-year term as president, the bishops also re-elected CBCI secretary general Jesuit Bishop Charles Soreng of Hazaribagh.

The CBCI also re-elected vice presidents Archbishop Alan de Lastic of Delhi and Bishop Geevarghese Mar Timotheos of Tiruvalla at the meeting at St. Mary´s Malankara Major Seminary in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala´s state capital.

CBCI deputy secretary general Father George Pereira will continue in office for two more years.


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