At their plenary assembly held Feb. 5-12, the Indian bishops discussed pastoral challenges in the nation and continuing the implementation of the Second Vatican Council.

At the conclusion of the assembly, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Syro-Malankarese Major Archbishop of Trivandrum, was elected as president of the Indian bishops' conference. He succeeds Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, who served as conference president for four years.

The assembly was held in Palai, in the south-west Indian state of Kerala, and was called "Renewed Church for a Renewed Society: Responding to the Call of Vatican II," and focused four documents from the council.

The four were Lumen Gentium, on the Church; Ad Gentes, on the Church's mission activity; Gaudium et Spes, on the Church in the modern world; and Apostolicam Actuositatem, on the apostolate of the laity.

The meeting, which is held every other year, gathered 185 bishops from India's 167 dioceses, who represent not only the Latin rite, but also the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, both of which are native to India.

At the opening Mass of the assembly, India's apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, emphasized the renewal of the Church as a sure path to greater faithfulness to Christ and the gospel, recalling Pope Francis and noting that Church renewal must be oriented to missioning.

During the meeting, Cardinal Gracias referred to Bl. John XXIII's exhortation at the opening of Vatican II to bishops that they be holy, so that in turn priests and laity will also be holy. He also referred to the documents of Vatican II as the source for reflection for the renewal of the Church and society in India.

Archbishop Albert D'Souza of Agra reported on interreligious dialogue in the nation, saying it is "essential in order to achieve the evangelizing mission of the Church."

The bishops attended a presentation on Apostolicam Actuositatem given by Alexander Jacob, director general of police in Kerala. Jacob discussed, from his own experience, what committed Catholic laymen can do in society to witness to their faith in Christ.

Cardinal George Alencherry, Syro-Malabarese Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly, discussed during a homily the problem of Catholics becoming "disinterested in the life of the Church" or leaving it altogether, adding that the Church needs more people of committed faith and living witness.

The host of the assembly, Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt of the Syro-Malabarese Diocese of Palai, wrote that the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India "reflects and deliberates on issues invariably related to Christian values and the people of India at large," adding that the bishops are characterized by "openness to the people."

"The quintessence of CBCI is unity in diversity," he continued. "Despite the enormous cultural, linguistic, ecclesial and traditional diversities and divergences of the regions and the churches represented by the bishops in this vast subcontinent of India, CBCI envisages weaving a myriad fabric of harmony and unity."

Bishop Kallarangatt also noted the Church's work for justice, including a preferential option for the poor and its defense of Dalits "and other oppressively marginalized sections of society."

In their conclusions, the bishops wrote that "the Church, following in the footsteps of Christ, cannot close its eyes to the suffering and injustice that penalize the poor, marginalized, and excluded."