New Delhi, India, Dec 29, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Recent efforts from Christians and Muslims in India have united the communities to end the practice of untouchability, including a Dec. 11 march in which peaceful protesters were subjected to beatings and being sprayed with water cannons.
“We are trying to come together in this ecumenical effort,” Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi said in a Dec. 18 interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Although the practice of untouchability, or ostracization based on one's caste, was officially outlawed in 1950 and a quota system for education and government positions was created for Dalits, Christians and Muslims were not included in affirmative action and still face discrimination and mistreatment to this day.
“That resistance stems from the Hindutva ideology that India must be strictly Hindu and eventually become a Hindu theocratic state,” the archbishop explained.
Indian law includes affirmative action for Dalits from the country's indigenous religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, but the policy excludes Dalits from Christianity and Islam, both of which originated outside the country.
On Dec. 11, Archbishop Couto participated in a peaceful march on India's capitol alongside Protestant, Muslim, and fellow Catholic leaders to push for equal rights for all Dalits.
When the participants converged on the main road from side streets, police took to beating with batons and canes, and hosing down the protesters, including nuns, priests, and laity, with water cannons. By taking their march onto the main road, the group had violated the security barrier leading to parliament.
“We felt we had to make this push because otherwise nobody would pay any attention. We had to do something drastic, even if it meant breaking the law. Our hope was to get the attention of the Government and some political leaders who sympathize with the cause so that the issue might be raised in Parliament, thus building pressure on the government.”
Some 400 demonstrators were arrested and held for several hours, including Archbishop Couto and six other bishops.
The following day, they were granted about 10 minutes to meet with the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who apologized for the beatings and violence and indicated he would present the issue before parliament.
“But promises have been made so many times before,” the archbishop said. “The issue is currently in the hands of the Supreme Court, which is waiting for the government to say yes or no to the granting of rights to the Christian and Muslim minorities.”
According to Archbishop Couto, a fear among some fundamentalist Hindus is that if Christian Dalits are granted full rights and protection under the Constitution, Hindu Dalits might convert to Christianity.
He said, “the Christian faith upholds in a particular way the dignity of the human person. There is enormous power and strength that flows from the relationship with Christ and the Gospel.”
“This holds great appeal for people – and hence some right wing Hindu factions worry about a great exodus from Hinduism to Christianity.”
There are some 166 million Dalits in India, most of whom are Hindu; around 18 million are Christian.
The discrimination against Muslim and Christian Dalits places the members of the two religions in a “very particular situation” in India, and “we generally enjoy a good relationship with each other,” Archbishop Couto said.
Vatican City, Dec 29, 2013 (CNA) -
In his Angelus address given on the feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis prayed especially for the approaching Synod of Bishops which will discuss pastoral challenges to the family.
“The next Synod of Bishops will address the theme of the family, and the preparatory phase has already begun some time ago. For this reason, today, (on) the feast of the Holy Family, I wish to entrust this synodal work to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, praying for families around the world,” he said on Dec. 29 in St. Peter’s Square.
Asking the crowds that packed St. Peter’s Square and the surrounding streets to join with him spiritually, Pope Francis prayed, “Holy Family of Nazareth, may the approaching Synod of Bishops make us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.”
The Pope dedicated his Angelus message to considering Jesus’ own family as an example for families everywhere. “God wanted to be born in a human family, he wanted to have a mother and a father, like us,” he explained.
“It’s an example that does much good for our families, helping them to become ever more a community of love and reconciliation, in which one experiences tenderness, mutual help, and mutual forgiveness.”
Even the Jesus’ own family, however, was not without its difficulties.
Forced to flee to Egypt to escape being killed by Herod, “Joseph, Mary, and Jesus experienced the dramatic condition of refugees, marked by fear, uncertainty, need.”
Unfortunately, Pope Francis continued, “in our day, millions of families can see themselves in this sad reality.” Refugees and immigrants do not always find “true welcome (or) respect.”
Yet “Jesus wanted to belong to a family that had experienced these difficulties,” to show that no one “is excluded from the nearness of God’s love.”
“The flight into Egypt because of Herod’s threats shows us that God is also there – there where man is in danger, there where man suffers, there where he escapes, where he experiences rejection and abandonment; but he is also where man dreams, hoping to return to his homeland in freedom, designing and choosing a life of dignity for himself and his family.”
Even in families who do not face such dramatic circumstances, “exiled persons” can be found, noted the Pontiff: “the elderly, for example, who sometimes are treated as a burdensome presence.”
“Many times I think that one sign to know how a family is doing is to see how the children and elderly are treated in it,” he said.
Pope Francis then repeated one of his oft-used instructions on family life. “Remember the three key phrases: excuse me, thank you, I’m sorry!” he exhorted the crowds, who cheered in response.
In a family that uses these words, “there is peace and joy,” he assured them.
“Repeat it with me, everyone together!” the Pope urged, “excuse me, thank you, I’m sorry.”
The Pontiff closed by greeting the many pilgrim groups who had traveled to Rome and wishing everyone a happy feast day.