Not many Catholics have thought ‘solidarity’ in relation to their faith. Many do understand solidarity as a political force in the society and not as connected with their spiritual practices and devotions. Ignorance about the Catholic Social Doctrine may be a possible reason for this.

In one of his recent speeches Pope Francis was urging people to unite in solidarity as a sign of their tangible expression of living Christian faith. “Remember,” the Pope said, “when a faith doesn’t have solidarity, it’s weak, it’s ill or it’s dead. It’s not the faith of Jesus.” The Pope made this comment during his visit to the poorest neighbourhood in Paraguay’s capital in the month of July, encouraging residents to practice solidarity.

Solidarity is about valuing our fellow human beings and respecting who they are as individuals. Solidarity helps one go beyond the sectarian confines of the ‘otherness’ into a liberating global vision of the humanity and universe.

We must be familiar with the verse ‘faith without action is dead’ (James 2: 16-24), which urges us to engage in charitable activities. By telling ‘faith without solidarity is dead’ the Pope is poking our traditional notions of faith and spirituality, which is often concerned with rituals and ‘certain portions’ of morality. It challenges us to examine how we identify ourselves with Christ, the Church and the global humanity in radical ways.

The central aspect of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Compendium) is nothing more than human solidarity. It “is undoubtedly a Christian virtue” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (SRS) 40; Compendium 193). However, the Christian solidarity consists not only in perceiving the other as an autonomous human being with rights and fundamental equality but also in seeing them as the living image of the Trinitarian God. Christian solidarity therefore ought to go further, higher, faster than its secular equivalent (SRS 40).

The Church and its subordinate organisations run umpteen number of charitable institutions which include centres for the old, sick, differently abled, programmes for weaker sections of the society such as women, children, widows etc., vulnerable of the society such as Adivasis, untouchables, prostitutes, eunuchs, prisoners, to mention a few. The committed priests and religious of the Catholic Church reach out to these sections selflessly extending their service 24×7. Many charismatic lay people also have joined this great service force doing it out of sheer love for the Christ. The rest of the Catholic community generously supports these works of mercy by material and temporal resources.

Nonetheless, the Church in India, which boasts to be vibrant with strong faith traditions and intense devotional practices shall introspect on their sensitivity to solidarity. In a culturally transforming society such as that of ours we should come to a deeper awareness about solidarity, which does not end in engaging in some charitable activities. Pope John Paul has categorically exhorted that solidarity is “not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people…” On the contrary, “it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good… because we are all really responsible for all” (SRS 38).

Similarly, Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium exposes the idea of solidarity as something “more than a few sporadic acts of generosity” that “presumes the creation of a new mindset.” It involves our “decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them” and when we live this convictions and habits of solidarity they would “open the way to other structural transformations and make them possible” (EG 188, 189; emphasis added).

The cultural and political scenario today prevails with chauvinistic and fundamentalist attitudes and discourse. This fosters divisive and sectarian discourse in the society. Groups with relatively greater political power have significant control over how identities are constructed and ideologies are driven. Obviously, these identities are dichotomous in nature and use differential language such as ‘we’ and ‘they’ or ‘our home’ and ‘your home’ to describe themselves and their belongingness.

This is a time that demands increased sense and acts of solidarity from Indian Catholics. We are exposed to the irresistible cacophony of intolerance in terms of religious fundamentalism and nationalism. On August 25, 2008 India witnessed massive violence unleashed in Orissa against Christians. Though there had been numerous religious violations before and after that, in the last one-year we have faced an increased number of challenges to religious belief. These included burning and vandalising worship centres, abuse and violence against religious personnel, obstructing peoples right to believe in a God and practice a faith they choose to and even forceful conversions in the wake of Ghar Wapasi. The last in the series is desecrating a statue of St John Bosco occurred in a place believed to be non-hostile to Christians.

We also witness several other violations and intolerable talk through which the majority makes the life of the minority miserable. Albeit the Catholic institutions are committed to provide best quality education all across the country, the majority wish to rework the definition of minority with regard to education. Christian schools are forced to place Hindu deities in the campus. We have been seeing ill-intentioned interventions of the government in educational institutions ranging from Universities to IITs and IIMs to Colleges, apart from their vigorous attempt to alter the academic and historical narrative as such. Bans are banal with this government which has made prohibitions on various aspects of human life such as NGOs, Student Associations, food, books, films and documentaries, as well as websites. The logic of pressurising media channels for facilitating free and fair debate on pertinent issues is not only incomprehensible but has no legal basis.

The poor of the country are dismayed, as they have been kept at the fringes of the development agenda of the present government. The middle class whose mandate was crucial to put the present government to power is disappointed with the escalating cost of living even while the economic situations are favourable to the government. Nonetheless, we do not find equitable distribution of wealth among common people, which is their right.

The hugely majoritarian representative body of India has already passed or planning to pass a couple of laws which would deprive people of their land and their very right to life. People are dreaded with the laws that prohibit babies’ right to be born, people’s right to live longer and die peacefully, as well as securing justice before one being executed.

The Church has been outspoken in some crucial issues, which threatens human life. The national capital has been a focal point of Christian demonstrations of solidarity on various issues. However, poor participation is always bemoaned. These expressions of solidarity also remain in local levels only and exclusive to subsections within the Church (Eg: Koodamkulam atomic power station, Vizhinjam harbour development). Shouldn’t those instances of solidarity be heard across the country to become a national statement? The demonstration on Christian Dalit rights for example has now become an yearly routine event in the National Capital attended by very few. Shouldn’t this be a wave of solidarity across the country?

Further, we shall not be disillusioned that demonstrations are the only way for solidarity. We also need to rise above the sentimental level of demonstrations. Our solidarity must be politically correct, and shall be accompanied by studied materials. It is doubtful, in the case of protection of Eastern Ghats, if the Church has presented an erudite and convincing argument on it. For every social cause promoted by the Church, there shall be research support to which lay experts also shall be contributing.

This culture of solidarity should harness potentials of media and shape a sound public opinion in solidarity with our fellow brethren. The social media and other technologies are the best space for us who are separated by distances to come together for social and religious causes.

Above all, Church’s solidarity shall never be communal. Church should be waking up not only when something happens against its worship centres, institutions or personnel, but shall turn to be an ever-vigilant watchdog as well as a champion of every human right defence. Let the Church cross the barriers – communal, linguistic, gender and the like – to reach out to every human who needs our help.

A movement of the Spirit within, a recognition of the other as brother or sister, as a child of God is required to develop such a sense of solidarity. A determination to reach out to affirm, to support and to receive from the other, a taking of risks in the light of this underlying belief and insight is the practical aspect of it. If our sense of solidarity remains to be a shallow sympathy, our faith in the One who died in solidarity with humanity is a waste; nay it’s dead.

Article was published in Indian Currents August 2015