Dimensions of the community of faith: sources of friction and inspiration from India
Interview with Veronique Vogel, head of the Indian section of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), on the situation of Christians in India. The interview was held by Karla Sponar.
What is the situation of Christians in India today?
Alarming. Anti-Christian attacks almost doubled in 2017, with 740 more incidents than in the previous year. Most of them occurred in North India. It is important to know that the nationalist party that is currently ruling India at the federal level is also governing 19 of the 29 federal states of India. Not only the number of attacks has grown, but what is striking is the kind of attacks: they are characterised by even more hate. The consequences for Catholics are more severe. The attacks used to be more verbal in nature, such as against the directors of Catholic schools. Now – as for example in Madhya Pradesh – groups of extremists enter schools, they disrupt classes, they try to impose an extreme nationalism in schools – that is new. Priests were attacked and detained by police, even though they were only heading out to visit a village community to sing Advent carols. There is also a tendency to accuse Christians of blasphemy – as has happened in Pakistan. Christians are portrayed as a danger to national unity. This trend has developed since the last elections in 2014.
What is the press reporting about this?
We read – in particular in the Catholic media, but also in other reliable sources – that the number of attacks and their severity has risen.
Who is responding critically to this?
At the close of their meeting at the end of February, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India reinforced that Christians are to be treated as one hundred per cent Indian and at the same time considered to be one hundred percent Catholic. The false argument of having an anti-national stance has no place in Christian thought.
What message does Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) have for the Christians in India?
In this atmosphere of persecution, in which Christians are pressured by harassment on a daily basis and also made to fear for their lives, ACN is first of all helping bishops in their pastoral work so that they can in turn support their brothers and sisters in faith and encourage them to grow in their Christian faith. In concrete terms, ACN is supporting the Indian church, for example in its work with adolescents, with women, families. We are in close contact with them, we show our solidarity with them in prayer, demonstrate our understanding of their situation, and report on it.
Because it is anything but easy to be a Christian in India today. The bishops are maintaining interdenominational connections. We support Catholics in India so that they can continue to be an example of Christian coexistence in love and compassion for everyone.
Of the total of 5,384 projects that were approved by ACN in 2017, the greatest share, i.e. 584 projects, involved aid for India. Besides the fact that its approx. 1.3 billion inhabitants make India the second most populous country in the world after China – is there another reason for this?
Pope Francis correctly said: the church of the future will be the church in Asia. India has an important Christian community of faith. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that Indians generally have a deep and strong spirituality no matter what religion they belong to. Eighty-four percent of the population is Hindu. Apart from the extremists, who want to foment unrest among people with different religious affiliations, Hindus are very hospitable, very pacifistic, and consider cultural and religious diversity to be a gift from God and allow every religion to have a place in society. This special way of greeting each day and each moment of each day in community with God is one way of remaining connected to the divine. To pray. Accepting one’s own inferiority to the magnificence of God. I frequently come across this humility and simultaneous joy in Hindus.
However, it is an individual religion. This is why Hindus are interested in how Christians are organised, with their priests, religious, communities that all come together to pray. They consider this dimension of community to hold new meaning for their Hindu spirituality. This is why Hindus generally view Christianity favourably and are willing to give it a place in their society.