Protestant prelate´s consecration sparks hopes for better ecumenical ties

2009-09-01 17:50:35
A newly consecrated bishop of the Church of South India says his top priority is to promote ecumenical and interreligious harmony in the region.

Recently installed Bishop John Stephen Sadananda

"Strengthening ecumenical relations and fighting fundamentalism are my top priorities," said Bishop John Stephen Sadananda, who was installed bishop of the Protestant Church´s Karnataka South diocese on Aug. 28. The diocese, based in Mangalore, covers eight civil districts of Karnataka state and one district each in neighboring Kerala and Tamil Nadu states. Mangalore and surrounding districts in Karnataka witnessed increased violence against Christians after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people´s party) came to power in May 2008. From Sept. 14-21 that year, Hindu radicals attacked at least 24 churches and prayer halls in the state. The violence, most of which occurred in the Christian stronghold of Mangalore, had forced Christian denominations to work together. Bishop Sadananda, who assumed duty on Aug. 31, told UCA News that for him ecumenism means harmony among all religions or cultures. "Jesus came not only for Christians," he said, and added that Christians, "as followers of Christ ... have to give a collective witness." The bishop stated that real Christian ecumenism is possible only when "all denominations preach and witness the same Christ in the same way." Bishop Sadananda said he has a "universal" outlook on Christianity, while acknowledging that different Churches preach different ways of following Christ. "I feel one with the Catholics," said the Protestant prelate who has spoken at several meetings organized by Catholics in the past. Bishop Sadananda, a seminary professor who has encouraged common priestly training for all Christian denominations, said he opposes all sorts of religious extremism. "The only way to fight fundamentalism is to create space for other people in our philosophy and develop a give-and-take attitude," he stressed. Several Catholics, including Bishop Aloysius Paul D´Souza of Mangalore, attended Bishop Sadananda´s consecration. "A new era has begun in Mangalore" said Bishop D´Souza, at a celebratory function later. He expressed hope that the new prelate would help improve relations between Catholics and Protestants by opening up new areas for cooperation. Father Francis Rodrigues, editor of "Raknno" (guardian), a Catholic diocesan weekly, agreed that Bishop Sadananda is a popular proponent of ecumenism. The new bishop can foster harmony, not only among Christians, but also among other religious groups, the Mangalore diocesan priest told UCA News. He noted that relations between local Catholic and Protestant seminaries "improved substantially" during Bishop Sadananda´s tenure as principal of Mangalore-based Karnataka Theological College (KTC) from 1992 until the time of his episcopal appointment. Bishop Sadananda, who turns 60 on Sept. 24, was ordained a priest in 1969. He was serving as secretary of the Karnataka Christian Educational Society until recently. Karnataka South diocese has about 35,000 members.
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