Indian bishops' conference reelects Cardinal Gracias

CNA 5dc0c8923c5cc 169500 1 Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India has reelected Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Bombay, as president of the conference for a second term. The election was held on February 17. 

Gracias turned 75 in December. In accord with canon law, he has already submitted his resignation to the pope, but is expected to continue as Archbishop of Bombay for the foreseeable future.

The cardinal is also one of the members of the Council of Cardinal Advisers-- known as the "C6"--a group of six cardinals who advise Pope Francis on the governance of the universal Church and on the preparation of a new governing constitution for the Roman Curia. 

On the same day that Gracias was re-elected by the Indian bishops, the C6 held its first meeting of 2020 with a three-day session in Rome from Feb. 17-19. 

Gracias will begin his new two-year term leading the Indian bishops' conference at a time when the persecution of Christians in the country has increased. In October 2019, Bishop Kishore Kumar Kujur of Rourkela, speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, said that India's Christians "are living mostly in fear at the present--much more in the north, where they are a minority." 

"There is a fear about how the government will react now the right wing has taken over. We have apprehensions it will not go well for the Christians," said Kujur. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is widely perceived as favorable to the Hindu nationalist movement and, since his election in 2014, there have been more frequent reports of violence and persecution against Christians. 

India was scheduled to host the 2021 Asian Youth Day celebration for young Catholics of the continent, but pulled out of the commitment last month, in part due to fears of governmental hostility to the event. 

"Our country was given the responsibility of hosting Asian Youth Day … After consultations with higher authorities, it was decided that it was better to call off the event as the present scenario does not allow us to hold the program," Bishop Nazarene Soosai of Kottar, head of the Indian bishops' youth commission, told ucanews Jan. 6.

"We had hoped that there would be a change of government in 2019, but that did not happen and the present situation does not look good either," added Soosai. 

India previously hosted Asian Youth Day in 2003.

Modi's political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, came to power in 2014, and gained seats in the 2019 election. 

According to the 2019 report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, "religious freedom conditions in India continued a downward trend" in 2018.

The commission said India's "history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives-including, at times, the government's allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities-that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities. Both public and private actors have engaged in this campaign."

Gracias' reelection as head of the bishops' conference, despite his being past the normal retirement age for a bishop, comes just weeks after the announcement by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, another member of the Council of Cardinal Advisers, that he will step down as head of his own bishops' conference, in part because of his age. 

On Feb. 11, Cardinal Marx said he would not seek reelection as head of the German bishops' conference. He said he wants to spend more time in his Archdiocese of Münich-Freising and to allow "a younger generation" to lead the Church in Germany. Marx is 66 years old.

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