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Bishop Moras Named New Archbishop Of Troubled Bangalore Archdiocese

Updated: July 22, 2004 05:00 PM GMT
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The new archbishop of Bangalore says he is "glad to accept the new challenge" he faces in Bangalore, a Church territory in southern India where a series of controversial issues remain unsettled.

Some priests say they are disappointed by the appointment of Bishop Bernard Moras as their new leader. The Vatican on July 22 transferred him from Belgaum diocese and named him metropolitan of Bangalore. The archdiocese is based in the Karnataka state capital of Bangalore, 2,060 kilometers south of New Delhi.

Archbishop Moras is succeeding Archbishop Ignatius Paul Pinto, who is 79.

Immediately after the appointment was simultaneously announced in Rome and Bangalore, Archbishop Moras told UCA News, "I am sad to leave Belgaum, but glad to accept the new challenge." He also mentioned that he will give high priority to "the unification of the Catholic community," which is now divided by language and ethnicity problems.

The language issue has plagued the archdiocese of 330,000 Catholics for two decades. Native Kannada-speaking people say their language should be prominent in liturgy, but migrants from neighboring Tamil Nadu state favor Tamil for the liturgy. The controversy turned violent several times in the past.

Church statistics show that only 20 percent of the Catholics in Bangalore are natives who speak Kannada, the state´s official language. Conversely, 70 percent of the Catholics are Tamils, and the rest migrants from other states.

Kannada speakers, led by some priests, have campaigned for a Kannada-speaking "son of the soil" as their Church leader. Archbishops Pinto and Alphonsus Mathias, predecessors of Archbishop Moras, are, like him, not regarded as local. They are Konkani-speakers from Karnataka´s southwestern Mangalore region, a Christian stronghold.

Father Thomas Arokiaswamy, a Kannada parish priest in Bangalore, told UCA News that the local Church is "highly disappointed about the new appointment." He hinted that it may trigger wide protests by Kannada-speaking Catholics.

Kannada people say ever since Bangalore became a diocese in 1940 and an archdiocese in 1953, all its bishops have been "outsiders." Father Arokiaswamy said "it is unfortunate (Church authorities) cannot understand the struggle for survival of the local Church." The local Church is unable to grow because of its "outside control," he added.

Archbishop Moras said the demand of the Kannada-speaking community for a local person as bishop "may be justifiable," yet he has "no choice (but) to accept the appointment." The prelate, who will turn 63 on Aug. 10, admitted he lacks "a ready solution for the language issues and power struggles."

He said he hopes to face the problems with "an open mind, without any prejudiced ideas." He also claims to have "a vision for the future" and will "promote new initiates" instead of spending "much time solving old problems."

His priority, he added, is to empower the laity, particularly women, and to raise their presence in all decision-making Church bodies. "No Church can exist without the participation of the laity," he pointed out.

The new archbishop says that Bangalore, known as "the Vatican of India," is the country´s most resourceful Church center. It has a high presence of Religious congregations, formation houses, Catholic institutions and Christians. However, it is a "cradle of problems, too," he acknowledged.

Archbishop Moras was born in Kuppepadavu parish in Mangalore and ordained a priest in 1967. He became bishop of Belgaum in 1997. He currently heads the Health Commission of the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of India.

Meanwhile, Father Michael Anthony, regional director for the Bible and Catechism, told UCA News that Archbishop Moras can solve many problems because he is a "man of compromises and openness." The Bangalore priest said the new archbishop believes in initiating and sustaining dialogues and projects. "He is a perfect choice for Bangalore," said Father Anthony, who said he expects the appointment to boost evangelization and renewal in the local Church.

Father Mariappa Gregory, head of the archdiocese´s Social Work Department, told UCA News the new archbishop´s high missionary zeal can improve matters. "What Bangalore Catholics need is not a negotiator to solve their problems, but a missionary to initiate renewal in Church," he said. The priest added that he expects the archbishop to be a "pastor rather than an administrator."

In Belgaum, Church people have acknowledged growth in Church life because of initiatives undertaken by their outing bishop. Father Fidelino Arango, former parish priest of Belgaum cathedral, told UCA News that the bishop opened 40 mission stations in villages during the past seven years. He also invited several congregations to work in Belgaum, the largest diocese in Karnataka.

"He is a missioner bishop, who spent more time in mission stations than in the Bishop´s House," Father Arango observed. He added that Belgaum will "miss" him because he launched many projects and "their continuity is in question." A new bishop for Belgaum has not yet been announced.

The new archbishop of Bangalore said he will "continue as a missionary pastor" and plan more mission stations in rural districts of the archdiocese. He said he hopes to use "Religious groups in Bangalore city" for this work.


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