Indian bishops call for prayer and wise voting to uphold secular democracy

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India’s Catholic bishops have called on citizens to vote wisely in the upcoming federal elections to uphold the country’s secular democracy. In a statement issued at the conclusion of their 36th biennial meeting, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) expressed concern over rising divisiveness and violence against Christians in the country. They stressed the need to elect leaders committed to upholding constitutional values and pledged to continue serving the poor despite harassment.

One hundred seventy bishops representing 174 dioceses attended the week-long meeting held in Bengaluru from January 31 to February 7. The central theme was “The Church’s Response to the Current Sociopolitical Situation of the Country and the Benefits and Challenges of Artificial Intelligence (AI).”

The bishops’ message comes against a backdrop of rising apprehensions over the fate of India’s secular identity. With the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nearing the end of its second term, concerns abound that the elections could pave the way for a declaration of India as a Hindu nation. Tushar Gandhi, great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, warns that such a development would erode secularism and democracy.

Echoing these concerns, the Catholic bishops lamented the “unprecedented religious polarisation” in the country. Christians face frequent harassment and violence, with over 720 attacks reported in 2023 alone. The bishops pledged to continue serving vulnerable communities, even in the face of adversity. However, they called on citizens to become vigilant and vote for leaders committed to democracy, equality, and pluralism.

The bishops’ statement has evoked mixed responses within the Catholic community. While some welcomed the message, critics argued it fell short of addressing root causes and proposing concrete solutions. Jesuit priest Fr. Cedric Prakash said the bishops must be more proactive, offering specific recommendations to counter injustice effectively.

The bishops also called for ending ethnic violence in Manipur state between the Christian majority Kukis and Hindu Meiteis that has destroyed churches and homes. While framing this as an ethnic rather than religious issue, the bishops expressed dismay at the humanitarian crisis. However, some argue the Church’s response has been inadequate so far.

The bishops also urged India’s dioceses to pray and fast for peace ahead of the elections in April and May. In preparation for the upcoming elections, the Catholic bishops have requested that all of India’s dioceses observe March 22 as a day of prayer and fasting for peace and harmony in the country.

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