Does being a Christian forbid one to participate in the socio-political and secular affairs of the country? The height of being apolitical is when someone vehemently resists another’s political views for his religious belief. The Catholic archbishop of Delhi, Anil Couto was targeted by some hashtag groups and Modi media a couple of days ago for urging his flock “to pray for the country” and for the protection of “the democratic principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution” in a “turbulent political atmosphere.”

Church’s Right to Participate

Though the Church does not encourage party politics as well as partisan ideologies, she does not deter her children to participate in civil affairs with an intention to contribute to it. Discerning divine will from the Sacred Scriptures it has been the tradition of the Church to guide its faithful to meaningfully engage in the public life. Being a Christian does not mean to shrink into a spiritual cocoon praying for oneself and practice some private rituals, but envisages to actively participate in the social life by being the ‘salt of the earth and light of the world’ (Mt. 5:13-14).

‘Common Good’ is the principle that guides Church’s participation in the civic affair. Common Good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily” (Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra). In Laudato Si, Pope Francis wrote ‘the principle of the Common Good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters. This option entails recognizing the implications of the universal destination of the worlds goods…’ (LS 158).

The Church neither lives an isolated private life detached from the society nor consider itself as an alien organisation. The Church contributes to the society in numerous ways which include a major share in education and health sector. Even the enemies of the Church would not deny its massive and unchallengeable contribution to the deprived sections of the society comprising Dalits, women and children, fishermen, migrants, socially weaker sections etc. Roaring to suppress the voice of the Church is encroaching into its fundamental rights.

Innocuous Letter Irritates BJP

The BJP perceived an alarming threat in Archbishop Anil’s letter. Even before other fellow bishops and faithful appreciated the letter, the party and its allying media houses responded to it with furor. They tried to daunt the bishop and the Christian community alleging that the Church is against Modi, whereas the letter does not speak anything about PM Modi or BJP. Why would they get disturbed about this inoffensive letter which only urges its audience to make weekly prayers for the well-being of the country?

Catholics not only believe in the power of prayer, but also are convinced about their duty to pray for others. What the Bishop had asked the people of his care is to pray for the protection of the country, not for its destruction. While other religious organizations have already performed yagyas for social and environmental purposes, how could a Christian prayer for the country be so offensive? Wouldn’t the BJP want this country not to progress? Had the BJP really been genuine about the ‘vikas’ of the country, they should have welcomed this spiritual gesture.

The panic and anguish in the BJP camp reflects their faith in the power of Christian prayer and its ability to bring about change. Along with millions of Christians in the country I have decided to pray for our Country and the protection of its Constitution inspired by Archbishop’s pastoral letter. I do this because I believe prayers can bring about real change.

When the bishop asks to pray for the Nation why would some government offices immediately comment that there is no turbulent situation in the country and the minorities are safe? Why would some media characterize it as targeting Modi? First the bhakts identify the country with Modi. Secondly they are reinforcing that the nation is not faring well under the Modi rule. Had Modi and BJP were delivering they would not have been threatened by a single page letter that requests to pray for nation! What the nation really needs is a prayer of deliverance. While the politically passive Catholic church is latently perceived as an influencing force it is disingenuous to scrap it as not having political role in the country.

Solidarity and Social Sensitivity

The Church’s responsibility to make political opinions stems from its sense of solidarity with other members of the society. The morality of a society lies in how it treats its vulnerable members and how it attends to the less fortunate and disabled members to participate in society. These include the poor, victims of rape, social exclusion, old age, illness, addiction, people in prison and immigrants etc.

The Church’s heart aches when people are excluded as it envisages inclusive society. Church is not simply concerned about electoral politics but is very much bothered about the anti-human economic policies which Pope Francis called a ticking time bomb. The Church believes that only a fair and equitable market can achieve sustainable prosperity. Politics is not just about rallies, fake photoshop propagandas, spread of lies and providing license to kill on streets, it is not about spewing venom on others and keeping silent at unjust atrocities, but is about the common good, understood as those social conditions which enable people to flourish and live peacefully. We should assume that the letter of Archbishop Anil has challenged the national rulers to work for all sections of people and not to be divisive. Wow, the power of prayer even before they started praying!

The Challenges Ahead

As the Catholic bishop in the capital city was fulfilling his moral and spiritual responsibility the divisive factions have used this opportunity to misinterpret the message or catalysing religious fundamentalism. Extremist individuals might use the letter to fuel their political whims. Christians shall not be intimidated by the false propaganda of anti-Christian media and fake nationalists, but rather take a pro-active stance in witnessing to the human values enshrined in the Bible. They shall neither fall prey to the divisive and venomous messages nor spread such messages especially in the social media.

The Christian community aspires that more of its pastors follow up Bishop Anil’s legitimate concerns about the turbulent time with their bold statements and further invitations to prayer. However, do not forget that the call to prayer is also an opportunity to dialogue, as reconciliation is the key thrust of Christian spirituality. Let the leaders not estrange the Church from peaceful negotiations with the government.

An invitation for collective prayer indeed offers an opportunity for social awakening. Even as the bhakts want the Christians not to pray for the country, the Church cannot desist. So far as the Bible urges to ‘seek the welfare of the city’ (Jer 29:7), the Christians cannot but pray for the progress of the country.

Published in Indian Currents on 04th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 22