.- A survey of Catholics in a northern India diocese reports that, despite recent attacks against their fellow believers, they see authentic Christian witness as a top priority and as key to outreach to the poor. The local bishop has also committed himself to this goal.
Bishop Ignatius Mascarenhas of the Diocese of Simla-Chandigarh commissioned the investigating survey soon after taking office last year. He discussed the findings in a recent interview with the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
The bishop told ACN he would redouble efforts to make Christian outreach a priority through schools, preaching and service, “telling people it is Christ’s love we are sharing, and not being too afraid.”
He said Christian institutions must remember they exist “to bring Christ’s love.”
Survey respondents listed education as their second priority, voicing a particular commitment to giving more poor children places in Catholic schools. They named support for youth as their third priority.
Bishop Mascarenhas told ACN that India currently has the largest number of young people in the world and it is normal for families to have three to four children. He said the Church would focus on increasing young people’s faith and on promoting ways of Christian living in contrast to contrary messages in the media.
The fourth priority of respondents was social development, such as helping poor people become independent. The bishop said there was a special need to emphasize the rights of women and girls. They are perceived as a drain on the family, which is required to pay a dowry when the women are married.
Because of this view, women are frequently neglected and many die. However, the Church has been caring for unwanted girls in hostels run by religious sisters. The perception of girls is slowly changing but the bishop said change will take time.
The final priority named in the survey was the expansion of health care.
The bishop told ACN that Christians in India are “well known” for social development and teams have been established to implement these priorities as part of the Church’s mission.
The territory of the Diocese of Simla-Chandigarh is four times the size of Belgium. There are only about 20,000 Christians in its population of 20 million people.
Recent violence against Christians in India has moved ACN to make it a priority country. In 2009 it gave more than $4.8 million to projects to help the Church there. Its aid includes Mass stipends for priests, distribution of ACN Child’s Bibles and other religious education literature, training for seminarians and novices, building churches, and providing vehicles for clergy ministering in remote regions.