Institute of Missiology and Communications
Pune – India

October  – 2008


Vatican Synod: Religious Orders as the 'Hearing Aid' of the Church

Fr. Tony Pernia SVD, Superior General of the Society of the Divine Word, offered what may be one of the few images heard on the synod floor destined to outlive the synod itself: Religious orders as the “hearing aid” of the Catholic church. Pernia argued that the title of the Synod of Bishops, “The Word of God in the Mission and Life of the Church,” can be rephrased as “The Word of God IS the Mission of the Church.”

That mission, Pernia said, is rooted in “God’s on-going dialogue with the world and humanity.” In that light, he suggested, “the mission of the church needs to be understood as dialogue.” As such, Pernia said, evangelization is never a one-way street, in which the church speaks and the world listens. To be true to its mission, he said, the church must also listen to “the searching of faith-seekers, the cultural and religious traditions of people of other faiths, the aspirations of the poor and marginalized.” In this effort to listen to the world, he suggested, religious orders can play the role of the church’s “hearing aid.”

“Consecrated men and women, especially the missionaries who are engaged in mission at the frontiers of faith and the margins of society, can be the ‘hearing aid’ of the church,” Pernia said, “as they endeavor to listen to the Word of God revealed particularly in the lives of people.” Quoting the document of the Second Vatican Council on divine revelation, Dei Verbum, Pernia closed by suggesting that consecrated life “can contribute to making the church a community that not only proclaims but also listens.” On the other hand, Pernia’s memorable speech seems a convincing indication that religious orders can also do the reverse – not only listen, but speak, and do it well (John C. Allen Jr. in ‘National Catholic Reporter’, Oct. 11, 08).

India: Prime Minister offers Package to People hit by Violence in Orissa

Taking a "very serious notice" of the communal violence in Orissa, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday offered a package of assistance to the families of people who have lost their lives and those rendered destitute in it. The Centre would provide assistance to the family members of persons who have lost their lives and those victims who have been permanently incapacitated in the incidents under a recently finalized Central scheme for assistance to victims of communal violence, he told a Congress delegation from Kerala. Besides, Singh said, a package of assistance to the people who have suffered in the incidents, including those rendered destitute and homeless and support for repair of houses damaged including orphanages, would be provided from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund. The Prime Minister said that Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has given an assurance of "firm action" in the matter. Singh told the delegation that he had personally spoken to Patnaik to ensure communal harmony and bring to book the culprits behind the violent incidents (www.cbcisite.com).

India: Quest for Religious Identity

In Indian context today, more than ever, as Romila Thapar, one of India's eminent historians, says, caste, regional and other identities are replaced by religious identity, which "is used as the basis for political and social ideology. Such identity irons out diversity and insists on conformity for it is only through a uniform acceptance of the religion that it can best be used for political ends. Today we live in a global context of secularism and democracy. “All true religions have an immense potential for tolerance” says Felix Raj. He added that in today's context what we need is to affirm and perpetuate:

These are the principles that will pave way for a healthy atmosphere of respect, tolerance and acceptance of each other, of each religious tradition and enable us to live together as Indians in peace and harmony <felixrajsj@rediffmail.com>.

India: Who's the Real Hindu?

Does the VHP have the right to speak for you or I? Do they reflect our views? Do we endorse their behaviour? They call themselves the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, but who says they represent all of us? I want to draw a clear line of distinction between them and everyone else. My hunch is many of you will agree. Let me start with the question of conversion — an issue that greatly exercises the VHP. I imagine there are hundreds of millions of Hindus who are peaceful, tolerant, devoted to their faith, but above all, happy to live alongside Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Jews. If any one of us were to change our faith how does it affect the next man or woman? And even if that happens with inducements, it can only prove that the forsaken faith had a tenuous and shallow hold…So if thousands or even millions of Dalits, who have been despised and ostracized for generations, choose to become Christian, Buddhist or Muslim, either to escape the discrimination of their Hindu faith or because some other has lured them with food and cash, it's their right.

I'm sorry but when I read that the VHP has ransacked and killed I'm not just embarrassed, I feel ashamed. Never of being Hindu but of what some Hindus do in our shared faith's name. This is why it’s incumbent on Naveen Patnaik, Orissa's Chief Minister, to take tough, unremitting action against the VHP and its junior wing, the Bajrang Dal. This is a test not just of his governance, but of his character. (Karan Thapar/Hindustan Times - www.cbcisite.com).

India: Saffron Terror

In an article entitled Saffron Terror, in ‘The New Sunday Express’ dt. September 28, 2008 Rajashekar says: “The Bajrang Dal’s attacks on Churches in Karnataka could be just the beginning of a new push by the Sangh Parivar. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been in power less than five months in Karnataka, but the saffron brotherhood has already begun to flex its muscles in a show of strength. The target has been Churches, first in the costal districts, then in other parts. Suddenly, a state that’s always been known for the easygoing attitude of its people is in danger of turning into a den of intolerance. The ostensible cause is “forced conversions” of Hindus, but sceptics abound. Journalist and Komu Souharda Vedike (a forum fighting for communal harmony) convener Gauri Lankesh says that people who, talk about forced conversions, should show some proof. ‘How many cases have been filed in Karnataka over forced conversions?’ she asks.

The open violence that has broken out is seen as a direct result of the increasing strength of the Sangh Parivar and its front organizations, particularly the Bajrang Dal, youth-wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which has led the serial attacks on churches in the state’s coastal belt and in the Western Ghat sections. It is the hard face of Hindutva, but the Bajrang Dal still remains essentially an amorphous lumpen group of people struggling until yesterday to get a foothold in the state since its first chapter was formally established in 1996. That may change now, because it can hope for powerful patronage, though that may not always be open. In fact, there has been a steady rise in its activities in the last couple of years, coinciding with the BJP’s political ascendancy, especially after it became part of the coalition government headed by H.D. Kumaraswamy.

Even so, people were generally caught off guard because the target was an unexpected one. There have been clashes between fundamentalist Hindu and Muslim groups in the sensitive areas in the coastal belt, but few incidents involving Christians. All that changed on September 14, when the Bajrang Dal attacked nine churches of the New Life Foundation in Mangalore, Udupi and Chikamagalur, ransacking them before terrorizing parishioners at Sunday Mass. Attacks followed on churches elsewhere, including two in Bangalore.

Prof. M. G. Krishnan, chairman of the political science department at Bangalore University, feels these attacks don’t indicate a particularly new trend. “Attacks have always been there,” he says, “but they were more discreet than those on Muslims, because Christians are not as militant. In fact, Hindu fundamentalists hate Christian missionaries more, as they do much better work in education and health and are better organized.” Gauri Lankesh agrees, “Recent attacks are visible because they are more synchronized and better planned than in the past. Such attacks are more dangerous for the communal and secular fabric,” she says. “The government is led by fellow ideologues, so the Bajrang Dal and other related outfits feel they can do anything and get away with it” says Dr. Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and director of the International Academy for Creative Teaching. His argument is supported by the government’s glacial response to the Church attacks. It took eight days and a lot of criticism from various quarters for it to arrest Bajrang Dal convenor Mahendra Kumar, who had openly claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The BJP, which will use Karnataka as the gateway for its southern conquests, plans to adopt a “Gujarat model” of development, a phrase that is sure to send a chill through the minority groups. The model, talked up extensively by the BJP, appears to be the Parivar’s design to saffronize the state by engineering attacks on the minorities and profiting from the polarization. “They have stated that they want to make Karnataka another Gujarat. Now these attacks prove what their model is about,” says Gauri Lankesh. She notes that Churches were vandalized in Gujarat also when Narendra Modi assumed power for the first time in 2001. “These fundamentalists, perpetrators of inequality, detestation and casteism, are now trying to project themselves as saviours of Hinduism by creating a sense of insecurity,” says Krishnan. Krishnan doesn’t see anything wrong in missionaries persuading the poor and weaker sections to convert to Christianity (rajashekara@opmltd.com).


1. Who Decides the Issue of Conversion?

Joseph D'Souza, President, All India Christian Council, asks, “Who ultimately decides the issue of conversion?” According to the India's Constitution the freedom of religion is given to every individual Indian citizen. He or she has the freedom to believe and practice the faith he or she chooses. The freedom of speech enshrined in the Constitution gives every Indian citizen the right to propagate his faith as long as civil norms and decency are maintained. In the context of the caste revolt in modern India, a revolution which began with Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar, and Periyar, there is another logical reason. If our country does not give the Dalits, tribals and the OBCs (Other Backward Castes) the right to choose their faith, we have effectively imposed permanent slavery of the caste system on them…

The Indian State tried to deal with caste discrimination by banning the practice of 'untouchability' in the Constitution. With affirmative action provisions through reservation programs, the State tried to lift up the low castes of our society… So the oppressed Dalit and low caste person in India would ultimately decide the issue of conversion. Dare we take away this final and most basic of human rights from the most dehumanized group of people in human civilization? The Dalit Christian ethnic cleansing of Orissa must be contested by every means possible under the Indian Constitution and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The freedom of religion must be supported in our country (www.indianchristians.in).

2. The Battered Christian Community

Dominic Emmanuel SVD, Director, Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, says that the battered Christian community continues to feel beleaguered. No sooner did it hear whispers about Articles 355 and 356 from the UPA government and began to feel a little consoled, than news arrived of more attacks on churches and more Christians being killed. The pogrom against the Christian community, that began after the death of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati on August 23, despite “five” warnings from the Central government to the Orissa government, does not seem to be abating. The perpetrators are going about it with impunity, confident that the BJD-BJP combine rule in Orissa and other BJP-ruled states like Karnataka would provide them all the protection needed… Despite the unparallel work of Mother Teresa for the poorest of the poor, the motives of Christians — that “whatever they do to the least of their brothers or sisters they do it for Jesus…” — is just beyond the comprehension of those who make false but successful propaganda against Christians? ('Asian Age' dated 14th October 2008).

III. NEW BOOKS (Available at Ishvani Kendra)

1. Kavunkal, Jacob SVD, Anthropophany: Mission as Making a New Humanity, Delhi: ISPCK, 2008.

The focus for this book is God’s manifestation of the human person (Anthropos) through the ministry of God’s Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ. This the author expresses with the help of the suffix phany (manifestation). Jesus’ mission in the Gospels, largely, was restoring the dignity of human persons in an integral sense, including the eschatological dimension. In dehumanizing Asian situations, the author argues that Christian discipleship is a call to follow Jesus in his ministry of making the human person whole. Though written mainly from the Catholic background and Indian experience, the book speaks to every Asian Christian (Rs. 200/-).

2. Doss, Mohan (Ed.), Led by the Spirit: Mission, Spirituality and Formation, Delhi: ISPCK/DWS, 2008.

A Scholarly contribution from the Divine Word Missionaries to the Church on the occasion of Golden Jubileeof their Alma mater, Divine Word Seminary in Pune, India. A valuable work that probes various dimensions of mission, spirituality, and formation. Seventeen Divine Word missionaries, scripture scholars, missiologists, systematic theologians, philosophers, psychologists, experts in Islamic studies, and experienced formators – share their scholarly insights, deep reflections and challenges that are relevant for today’s world (Rs. 250/-).

Dr. Joy Thomas, SVD (Director)

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