We, the members of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), came together for the 34th Plenary Assembly from 24 to 30 January 2023, at St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, Bengaluru. We prayed, reflected on, and discussed the theme: ‘Telling the Story of Jesus in our Context: The Synodal Way.’
The Church, as the People of God, is the icon of the Holy Trinity, called to live in communion of love by participating in the one mission which emanates from the Triune God. The Apostle John testifies: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life … we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life …” (1 John 1:1-2). This calls for a personal encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ, which itself urges us to live and joyfully share the Good News in our context. Christ commissioned his Apostles: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). The Church continues this mission, living it by her words and deeds. This Good News is Jesus Christ himself, in whom God’s love in all its fullness is manifested to the whole of humanity. The Church, in the midst of her ups and downs, lights and shadows, successes and struggles, has striven to be faithful in bearing witness to this love of God in our beloved Motherland.
Down the centuries, millions have been attracted to the person of Jesus Christ and his salvific message and have become his followers. Through them the story of Jesus is told and retold, fulfilling what the Church has been proclaiming from the very beginning: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).
This love of God is lived and experienced first and foremost in the family, where the story of Jesus is recounted by grandparents and parents to their children in various ways, by reading Bible stories, praying together and participating in popular devotions. The faith life is further nourished and sustained in the larger family of the parish, where the celebration of the Holy Eucharist occupies the central place. The proclamation and the breaking of the word play an essential and prominent role in all the liturgical celebrations. The Holy Eucharist is the sacrament in which the community is being transformed into the body of Christ, where “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
The story of Jesus is read, lived and shared in a dynamic manner and in a synodal way in the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC). The Gospel sharing in the BECs (also known as SCCs/BCCs) strengthens the bonds of communion and leads the members to bear witness in society.
Witnessing to the love of Christ, the Church in India has substantially contributed to nation-building, especially through her engagement in the fields of education, healthcare and social uplift. Standing firm on the teachings of Christ, the Church has always upheld the dignity of the human person, stood for a just society, promoted peace and harmony and cared for the weak, the suffering and the deprived sections of society.
From the very beginning, ordained ministers, along with women and men in consecrated life and ably supported by catechists, have been serving their communities both within and outside the Church, through committed pastoral care. The participatory bodies and lay associations foster communion and involvement of the members of the body of Christ in the mission of the Church.
The Catholic Church in India recognises the changing circumstances and growing challenges she has to face, but has never ceased to tell the story of Jesus. A few challenges have been identified:
- Changing social conditions and the excessive use of social media, mobiles and internet have placed enormous pressure on the harmonious life of families.
- Addictions to drugs, alcohol and pornography are ruining the lives of many young adults, causing disruptions within families and in society.
- Poverty and inhuman living conditions deprive a substantial part of our population of equitable opportunity and dignity of life, creating uncertainties about their future.
- Massive displacement of peoples, loss of land and fishing rights in the name of industrial and corporate development result in forced migration, dispossession, loss of livelihood and further marginalisation.
- Greed and consumeristic life styles are eroding the life of faith and centrality of prayer.
- Some civil legislations and policies often seriously hamper pastoral engagements of the Church in India.
- Misuse of anti-conversion laws in some States and false propaganda about ‘forced conversions’ are discouraging and hindering the life and service of the Christian community. This calls into question the Constitutional rights of the minorities.
- The growing culture of intolerance, hatred and even violent attacks on Christians in some quarters is a matter of grave concern to Christians in India.
In the present context, the story of Jesus needs to be told even more courageously, creatively and authentically, considering that the Good News is to be proclaimed in season and out of season (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2). Assured by the words of Jesus: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), we continue to tell the story of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that God loves everyone unconditionally.
Following the Synodal Way, let us:
- Accompany youth and families so that faith is deepened, family prayer is nurtured, and the bonds of communion are strengthened; also, foster respect for life from the moment of conception to natural death.
- As grandparents, parents and elders, continue to transmit the story of Jesus to the younger generations.
- As pastors and consecrated persons, take more seriously our responsibility to care for families, individuals and all to whom we are sent.
- Promote, foster and sustain BECs in all our parishes.
- Utilize the occasion of celebrations of the Eucharist and Sacraments to catechize and tell the story of Jesus in a meaningful way so that the people may experience the Lord in their lives.
- Stand in solidarity with those affected by persecution, displacement, discrimination and marginalization.
- Make it our mission to protect and preserve mother earth (which Pope Francis has described as our ‘common home’ in Laudato Si), by employing all means at our disposal to promote eco-friendly lifestyles at all levels.
- Basing ourselves on the shared faith of all Christians, shun all fundamentalism and unitedly tell the story of love, justice and human fraternity.
- Join all our brothers and sisters, irrespective of caste, creed and language, to continue building our Nation, based on our Constitutional values in which justice, liberty, equality and fraternity reign supreme.
- Make efforts to uphold the secular ethos of our Nation with a preferential option for the deprived sections of our society, to ensure the integral development of all.
As we journey towards the celebration of the Synod in 2023-2024 and look forward to the Jubilee Year 2025, may all our efforts help us to be credible witnesses of Jesus Christ, while we continue joyfully to share his story.
On the occasion of the 74th Republic Day of our Nation, we pray for God’s abundant blessings on our Motherland India. May Mary, our blessed Mother, who received, treasured and shared the Word, never cease to intercede for all her children.
Given on Monday, 30 January 2023, the anniversary of the martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi – National Peace Day.
His Eminence Filipe Neri Cardinal Ferrão
President, CCBI and Archbishop of Goa and Daman
Most Rev. George Antonysamy
Vice President, CCBI
Most Rev. Anil Joseph Thomas Couto
Secretary General, CCBI