Hindu, Muslim Leaders Hope New Indore Bishop Will Build Peace

2008-12-10 18:36:55
The new Indore bishop will help build interreligious peace in the central Indian diocese, which has witnessed several anti-Christian attacks, Hindu and Muslim leaders said at his installation.
Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore (centre) being escorted to St. Francis Assisi Cathedral in Indore on Dec. 7 for his installation by Archbishops Leo Cornelio of Bhopal and Abraham Viruthakulangara of Nagpur, along with other bishops and priests.
Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal, 60, was installed on Dec. 7 as the third bishop of the diocese based in the same-named town in Madhya Pradesh state, 810 kilometers south of New Delhi. Pope Benedict XVI transferred Bishop Thottumarickal from the state´s Jhabua diocese to Indore on Oct. 24, the day he accepted the resignation of Bishop George M. Anathil, who had reached the canonical retirement age of 75. Both bishops are members of the Society of the Divine Word. Hindus and Muslims were among the 6,000 people who attended the installation and a gathering afterward to welcome the new bishop. The function was also planned as a farewell for the outgoing bishop, but he did not attend because of ill health. Ishrat Ali, Indore´s top Muslim leader, was among those who addressed the gathering. A spiritual leader such as Bishop Thottumarickal is certainly a gift to the people of Indore, he said. "His simplicity, openness and friendly approach towards people of other religions would certainly help to strengthen harmony in the city," observed Ali, who said he has known the bishop "for the past several years." Pandit Bhawani Kashyap, dressed in the saffron clothing Hindu religious leaders wear as a symbol of renunciation, likewise expressed confidence the newly installed prelate would bring religions closer. He also predicted Bishop Thottumarickal´s administrative skills would lead the Christian community on the path of prosperous development. "All religious leaders are representatives of God, and if we get persons like Bishop Thottumarickal as religious leaders, there will be peace and harmony in society," he remarked, noting that he too has known the Catholic prelate for several years. The Hindu leader said people of different religions fight when politicians with vested interests divide them along lines of religion and caste, but people such as Bishop Thottumarickal will help bring unity among them. Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal led the installation ceremony with Archbishops Abraham Viruthakulangara of Nagpur and Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar. Ten other bishops in the region joined the liturgy, which was conducted in the local Hindi language. ia_madhya_pradesh_indore_2.gifBishop Thottumarickal told UCA News his priorities would include strengthening laity-clergy relations. "Close relations between the people and the clergy will strengthen the Church," he said. He also plans to work to make education available to all, particularly poor people. The bishop also said he would stress dialogue, which he believes will help clear misconceptions about Christians and foil attempts by vested interests to orchestrate campaigns against them. His predecessor´s work he described as "marvelous." Bishop Anathil, who led the diocese for 35 years, established schools and hostels in remote parts of its territory. "I will certainly try my best to carry forward the mission he started and spread the message of Jesus to the people, especially the poor," Bishop Thottumarickal pledged. Christian leaders say that since December 2003, when the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people´s party) came to power in Madhya Pradesh, scores of attacks on Christians and other minority groups have occurred in the state. The BJP retained power when state election results were declared on Dec. 8. Christians comprise barely 200,000 of Madhya Pradesh´s 60 million people. About 20,000 Catholics belong to Indore diocese, which has experienced several incidents of violence against its institutions and people in the past five years. Extremists who want to foist a Hindu theocratic state on India denounce Christian social and charitable works as a facade to convert poor Hindus to Christianity. The BJP is considered the political arm of these groups, and the government machinery has registered cases against Christians for engaging in conversion, but not against their attackers. END
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