Vatican, September 2, 2011: The bishops of India briefed Pope Benedict XVI Sept. 2 on the level of anti-Christian persecution in their country. “These have been a cause of worry and the Holy Father specifically asked also if there is violence,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai in a Vatican Radio interview. Cardinal Gracias is in Rome as the Indian bishops conclude their 2011 “ad limina” visit to the Vatican in order to update the Pope on the health of the Church in India.
Today’s meeting involved the bishops from Karnataka in south-west India telling Pope Benedict about the continuing threat posed in their region by Hindu fundamentalists. Only last week, extremists attacked a church and threatened its pastor.
Cardinal Gracias said such fundamentalists want to create “animosity towards Christians and the Gospel” by making it appear as if “the whole of India is in danger because of the activities of the Christians and the missionaries.” But the cardinal dismissed that assertion as “not true at all.”
“The Gospel is a message of love and peace and joy and human growth which does not threaten anybody,” said Cardinal Gracias. The response to this message however has been mixed. “It’s not all over India, it is only in certain pockets, but really, I would not be honest if I did not say that there is violence in parts of the country even today. But it is certainly much, much better than before.”
The Bishops Conference of India is the fourth largest in the world and so their ad limina visit has to be staggered over four sessions.“It was a very good meeting with the Pope. We spoke about the situation in India, the challenges we have, the good news we have and also about the hopes we have for the future,” said Cardinal Gracias, who is also president of the Bishops Conference of India.
“The Holy Father was very interested in knowing about the situation of how Indian Christians are treated, our efforts for inter-religious dialogue and also about how we go about our pastoral work.” Although India is the second most populous country in the world, with over 1.18 billion people, only about two percent are Catholic. The Church, however, does play a significant role in providing health care, education and welfare services across the country.
Many Indian bishops hope this year’s ad limina will pave the way for Pope Benedict to visit their country. An invitation to the Pope was personally issued during a previous ad limina session in May. If the visit does happen, it will be the fourth by a Pope to India following trips by Pope Paul VI in 1964 and Pope John Paul II in 1986 and 1999