Challenge of Witnessing the Faith in Indian Cultures

Author: Cardinal Paul Poupard


Challenge of Witnessing the Faith in Indian Cultures

Address by Cardinal Poupard in Goa

GOA, India, 9 DEC. 2006 (ZENIT)

Here is the text of the keynote address that Cardinal Paul Poupard gave Nov. 21 to a meeting of directors of Catholic Cultural Centers in India.

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Gospel Values and Cultures:
The Challenge of Witnessing the Christian Faith in Indian Cultures

Your Excellencies Archbishop Pedro Quintana López,
Archbishop Felipe Neri Ferrao,
Reverend Father Tony Lopes,
and dear Sisters and Brothers,

1. I am extremely happy to be here today among you, to preside over this meeting of the directors of Catholic Cultural Centers in India. May I start my address with a word of gratitude to Father Tony Lopes, the superior general of the Society of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier, also called the Society of Pilar, and the members of this missionary society for their immense generosity to the Pontifical Council for Culture.

You had already shown us your greatness of heart, by gifting to the Holy See, the services of your member Father Theodore Mascarenhas. Now by offering to host this meeting, all at your own cost, you have once again given us a sign of your extraordinary commitment to the universal Church and the Church in India. May the Good Lord bless you and your Society. May it grow and flourish and reap a rich harvest for the Lord.

2. What a delight to be in India, this Ancient land, the land of the Rishis, the habitat of the gurus, the birthplace of very old religions, the cradle of ancient civilizations and deep rooted millennial cultures! The Catholic faith itself in India goes back to apostolic times. Tradition has it that after the ascension, St. Bartholomew went on a missionary tour to India, where he left behind a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. Eusebius, in the second century after Christ, mentions that Pantaenus, the master of Origen, while evangelizing India, was told that the Apostle had preached there before him and had given to his converts the Gospel of St. Matthew written in Hebrew, which was still treasured by the Church.[1]

From various sources, and especially from the Apocryphal Acts of St. Thomas, we know that St. Thomas brought the Gospel to South India and founded communities of local Christians.[2] So Christianity is very ancient to India and has taken deep roots here. The coming of the Portuguese and the missionaries from the West gave a great impetus to the spread of the faith. But like every other culture in the world, Indian cultures are subjected to continuous evolution and adaptation.

I recall my beautiful visit to Bangalore, India, over 20 years ago, in March 1986, to be exact. As the then president of the Secretariat for Nonbelievers, and president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, I had the privilege to preside over a consultation on atheism and religious indifference in India organized by the Commission for Proclamation, Ecumenism, Dialogue and Social Communications of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. At that time, I had said, "Your country is making colossal efforts to industrialize and modernize it. India has made remarkable scientific and technical progress, even in the fields of nuclear energy and space research."

In Europe, we have been reading about the gigantic strides being made by this great country. But on my arrival in India I have realized how those words which I spoke 20 years ago are even more of a reality today. I was astounded to see how much India's landscape has changed with new infrastructure rapidly replacing the old one and with visible signs of development everywhere. Of course, the strides of development and advancement also bring with it winds of profound change leading to rapid and intense sociocultural changes.

3. What a joy to be in Goa, the land of sun, sand and song, where the Catholic faith has been nurtured and cherished over the centuries. The plethora of churches, chapels, and roadside crosses and altars which we see around indicate that the Catholic faith has become the very bedrock of the Goan culture and a part of the Goan daily life. Goa has also been blessed with the mortal remains of the great Apostle of the East, St. Francis Xavier, whose example many Goan missionaries have tried to emulate by engaging in evangelizing work, and has produced its own saints: the martyrs of Cuncolim, Blessed Joseph Vaz, whose missionary exploits in Sri Lanka are remembered with gratitude in that country, and the Venerable Agnelo D'Souza.

Yesterday, I had the honor of presiding over the Eucharistic Celebration to mark the death of the remarkable Father Agnelo and I saw for myself the fervor and admiration his devotees have towards him. This land of great variety, with its many Christian places of worship as well as temples and tulsis, has a deeply religious ambience. Though the people of Goa are of different faiths and from different cultural backgrounds, this tiny land is marked by a peaceful harmony and respect for each other.

4. It is wonderful to be to be here on this beautiful little hillock of Pilar which has its own missionary and cultural history. As I was being driven up the hill yesterday evening I recalled Jesus' words in the Gospel, "A city set on a hill cannot be hidden" (Matthew 5:14). The Monastery of Pilar dates back to the early 17th century and is a witness to the contribution of the Spanish Franciscan Missionaries to this part of the world.

The Society of Pilar ever since it was transferred here in 1891 after being founded in Agonda, Canacona, has been a worthy inheritor of this missionary tradition, working today as I am told, in over 25 missionary dioceses mostly in India and Nepal.

Pilar has a very special cultural importance too. In the words of two of Goa's renowned historians, this small hill is culturally very significant. Father Cosme Costa tells us, "Long before Old Goa was the capital of the Portuguese Empire in the East, the present day Pilar hillock was part of the city of Govapuri, the erstwhile capital of Goa from where ancient Goan dynasties, the South Konkan Shilaharas (A.D. 765-1020) and the Goa Kadambas (1050-1345), held sway over vast territories in Western India. It was connected to the sea through a 5-kilometer-long stone built port."[3]

And according to Nandkumar Kamat, Pilar and the areas surrounding it, "have seen the footprints of the Neolithic man; the saffron robes of the Buddhist monks; the rickety ships of the Greeks, Romans, Persians and Arabs ...; the horses of the Gulf, slaves from Abyssinia; the copper of Cyprus; the pearls of Ceylon; the silk of Kalyani and the cotton and sandlewood of Banavas."[4] Given this cultural relevance, it is therefore significant that this meeting of the directors of the Catholic Cultural Centers in India is being held here.

5. In this keynote address, I would like to reflect on the closing words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, which as I have noted, was according to tradition the first to be brought to India. The Matthean Gospel ends on a mountain with Jesus exhorting his disciples with these words: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you all the time, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20). On reading the words one immediately notes the strong accent on universality with the repetition of the word "all" four times in this text which is traditionally called the "commissioning" text.

The words are crucial if we wish to speak of living the faith and proclaiming Christ in a multicultural and pluralistic religious country like India. The Gospel of Matthew itself is the product of a community that is very much in the minority within the Jewish faith, itself a marginal religion in the midst of the pluralism and syncretism of the pagan beliefs characteristic of the then dominant Greco-Roman culture.

The spread of the Gospel throughout the world therefore represents and is indicative of a process of assimilation and inculturation. On the one hand, the Gospel shows how Jesus keeps all that is truly Jewish, the "Law and Prophets" (Matthew 5:17-20; 7:12) in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, proclaiming justice and compassion for the poor and oppressed as the Jewish prophets also did (Matthew 25:31-46).

But the Gospel of Matthew also includes Jesus' commissioning of his disciples to move beyond the Jewish world to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God and the Lord's teachings and thus portrays a new view of God's people. The number of times the word "all" is used also emphasizes the four important elements of the text, namely, that Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth; that the mission he entrusts to his followers is designed for all nations; that the purpose of the mission is to spread Jesus' teaching and its observance in its fullness and, finally, that Jesus will always be with his followers to assist them when they undertake that mission.

Jesus thus identifies the authority given to him as the source or foundation of the mission, the people to whom to whom it is to be directed, its purpose and the person — himself — who is the guarantee of its success.

6. Jesus has been given all authority on heaven and earth. This authority which comes from the Father (cf. Matthew 21:22-26) is the source of the mission command. Jesus comes into the world on a mission from his Father. As the Gospel according to St. John will remind us, it is an authority that Jesus had from the beginning (John 1:3), but as my patron saint, the holy Apostle St. Paul will call to mind, Jesus Christ, "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-9).

St. Paul will go on to explain that for this very reason God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, to the extent that, at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Jesus' authority therefore is established through his incarnation, passion, death and resurrection. At the moment of the incarnation, when God's Word takes flesh, to be like us in all things but sin, God truly enters into the human family with all its diverse and varied cultures.

In the suffering, passion and death of Jesus, our Divine Savior teaches us how to deal with the infirmities and imperfections of human cultures. By his resurrection he ensured that his victory would be an enduring victory over sin and death, which will lead St. Paul to cry out, "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55).[5] As the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, said in his last Easter Vigil homily, "the Resurrection was like an explosion of light, an explosion of love which dissolved the hitherto indissoluble co-penetration of 'dying and becoming.' It ushered in a new dimension of being, a new dimension of life in which, in a transformed way, matter too was integrated and through which a new world emerges."[6]

The authority of Jesus through the paschal mystery thus transcends and supersedes cultures by the very fact that in his earthly life he assumes human culture and purifies it. Therefore, we can boldly say, "Jesus Christ is Lord: He possesses all power in heaven and on earth. He is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, for the Father has put all things under his feet. Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history. In him human history and indeed all creation are 'set forth' and transcendently fulfilled."[7]

7. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Jesus birth, death, resurrection and ascension are the unfolding of the divine love overflowing from the Triune God. Jesus' mission in which the Triune God is at work, is the same mission that the disciples are asked to carry on in the name of the same Triune God. The Holy Trinity works in unison in the creation, redemption and renewal of humanity.

In the beginning, we have the Spirit moving over the face of the waters and the Father creates the world by speaking the Word, who becomes the foundation and purpose of every creature (John 1:3). In the creation of man, again God speaks the Word, and breathes his Spirit into the nostrils of lifeless man. The incarnation and the paschal mystery which bring to climax the story of humanity's redemption sees the Triune God in action: the Father sends the Son, who is conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35) and takes human form.

At the inauguration of his ministry with the baptism at the Jordan, the Son while being baptized, is proclaimed by the Father to the world, with the Spirit appearing in the likeness of a Dove (Matthew 3:16-17). In the scene of the crucifixion, Jesus will cry out to the Father and give up his Spirit (Matthew 27:50). And when finally Jesus has to return to the Father, he sends the Spirit at Pentecost. This event permits each one to listen to the Good News in his own tongue. The Triune God, through the mission entrusted to the Son therefore enters humanity and consequently human cultures, to transform them, renew them and sanctify them.

It is this same mission that is assigned to the Church, who is called to be the "leaven in the dough" (Matthew 13:33) carrying on to humanity the power of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit to transform and restore all human cultures that have been affected by sin. The command to go to all nations implies that all boundaries are surpassed. As "Ad Gentes," the decree on the mission activity of the Church explains, "[...] by manifesting Christ the Church reveals to men the real truth about their condition and their whole calling, since Christ is the source and model of that redeemed humanity, imbued with brotherly love, sincerity and a peaceful spirit, to which they all aspire. Christ and the Church, which bears witness to Him by preaching the Gospel, transcend every peculiarity of race or nation and therefore cannot be considered foreign anywhere or to anybody."[8]

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, recently on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the conciliar decree "Ad Gentes" elucidated, "Today, the Church is called to embrace new challenges and be ready to enter into dialogue with different cultures and religions, seeking with every person of good will to build peaceful coexistence between peoples. Thus, the area of the 'missio ad gentes' appears to have been considerably extended and cannot be defined solely on the basis of geographical or juridical considerations; indeed, the missionary activity of the People of God is not only intended for non-Christian peoples and distant lands, but above all for social and cultural contexts and hearts."

In my keynote address to the pan-Asian meeting of the members and consultors of the Pontifical Council for Culture from Asia and the presidents of the Commissions for Culture of the national episcopal conferences, held at Nagasaki, Japan, from 15th to 17th October 2002, I focused on the aspect of the Trinitarian action of transforming cultures. I had then said, "Jesus has not left us orphans. He gives us his Spirit to help us understand what he has taught us. His Spirit enlightens and empowers the Church and makes us intrepid messengers of the Gospel. ... 'Christ renews all cultures through the creative power of the Holy Spirit, the infinite source of beauty, love and truth' ("A Pastoral approach to Culture," § 39). The Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus himself. He is the Spirit that beautifies bringing the cosmos out of chaos; the Spirit that unifies bringing together what is scattered; the Spirit that vivifies infusing life into what is dead and defunct; the Spirit that sanctifies rendering all things pleasing to God. He is the finger of God's right hand putting the final touches of perfection to God's creation."[9]

The raison d'être of the Church is to be the Body of Christ in the world in order that the whole world might hear the Gospel and that persons, lives and cultures may be transformed. By its witness in word and deed to the living Triune God, the Church works for this transformation, for the benefit of humanity. The purpose and mission of the Church then, is to witness to God and the joy of God's gracious good news, so that peoples to the ends of the earth might know God and might experience his saving grace in Jesus Christ.

8. Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. The mission entrusted to the Church necessarily consists in teaching all peoples to observe what Jesus has commanded summed up simply in the 'commandment of love.' For he taught, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ...You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ... On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).

The commandment of love is two dimensional. In its vertical movement, it is the love that man shows towards God in response to the love that God first showed him. God's love spills over to create heaven and earth, and continues to create and shape the world. Because of the disobedience of our first parents, who were created as the image and likeness of God, humanity and human cultures were marred by imperfection, blemish and deficiency, corrupting what God made good.

The love of God comes through the incarnation of his only Son, Jesus Christ, to humanity and to its cultures to heal them. God became human in order to redeem the confusion and destructiveness of human beings. In this the love of God was made manifest to a humanity that had been affected by sin and imperfection, and to human cultures that were broken and blemished, "God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (1 John 4:9-10).

This love heals and transforms humanity as Jesus declares, "as the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's Commandments and remain in his love" (John 15: 9-10). Jesus Christ, whose entire life, but especially his passion and death, stand as the epitome of complete self-gift, teaches what this love means: complete self-giving.

This is best interpreted by the mystery of the Cross, which Jesus accepts in obedience to the will of his Father. The open stretched arms on the cross while glorifying the Father, invite humanity into an embrace of love. The love that Jesus teaches is full of compassion. He himself is moved with compassion at the sight of the crowds, who were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). This compassion leads him to heal the sick (Matthew 14:14), to feed the hungry (Matthew 15:32), leads him to console and help the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-16). His disciples will be judged at the end on the basis of being moved by this compassion or not (Matthew 25:31-46).

The self-giving love naturally transcends enmities and racial or social differences. It breaks the cycle of violence of the law of vengeance (Matthew 5:38-40). It reveals that "God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17, cf. John 12:47). And therefore this love does not hesitate to approach "sinners" (Matthew 9:10-13, 11:19, 21:31; Mark 2:15-17; Luke 5:30, 7:34) in spite of protests from the "righteous." Being a self-gift, it essentially involves forgiveness (Matthew 6:12;18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37; 15; 23:34).

Jesus thus lived and taught a love for the neighbor that went beyond cultural boundaries, to all peoples including the Gentiles (e.g., Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30, Luke 10:25-37, John 4:1-39). He was recognized as the servant of God who will bring justice and light to all including the gentiles (Matthew 12:18; Isaiah 42:6).

9. I am with you always, to the close of the age. The mission entrusted to the Church is essentially the mission of Christ. The Lord and Master, to whom all authority is given in heaven and earth, and who invites others to follow him, gives them grace for a new life and asks them to participate in his mission. He is always present and at work in our midst as he himself has promised. Christ's relevance for all peoples at all times is shown forth in his Body, the Church.

For the Lord is present through the Holy Spirit, as he himself said, "the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26). Jesus Christ continues to accompany his Church in the holy Eucharist. As the Servant of God, our beloved Pope John Paul II told us, "in the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into his body and blood, Christ walks beside us as our strength and our food for the journey, and he enables us to become, for everyone, witnesses of hope. If, in the presence of this mystery, reason experiences its limits, the heart, enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, clearly sees the response that is demanded, and bows low in adoration and unbounded love."[10]

10. The Church in India, as elsewhere, is called to live and witness its faith in Jesus Christ. As I said earlier, India's rich and diverse cultural heritage offers both a challenge and an opportunity to live and proclaim the faith in Jesus Christ. It calls for an evangelization of cultures and the inculturation of the faith.

Let me recall the impressive words written by the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, "My thoughts turn immediately to the lands of the East, so rich in religious and philosophical traditions of great antiquity. Among these lands, India has a special place. ... In India particularly, it is the duty of Christians now to draw from this rich heritage the elements compatible with their faith, in order to enrich Christian thought."[11]

The mission of Christ fundamentally involves the evangelization of cultures. To evangelize cultures, one must first be conscious of the fact that culture is a human reality to be evangelized. Evangelization must be understood in its total individual and social meaning. If it is true that only persons can make an act of faith, be converted, receive baptism, adore and contemplate God, the act of evangelizing must also reach the heart of cultures through persons. Faith is called to make a real impact on all areas of common life. While respecting the proper autonomy of the order, Christians by their witness incarnate the Gospel to the point of effectively transforming individual and social behavior. They thus evangelize the very ethos of their own human community.[12]

Inculturation of the faith is the other side of the coin. In the words of Pope Paul VI, "the kingdom which the Gospel proclaims is lived by men who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the building up of the kingdom cannot avoid borrowing the elements of human culture or cultures. Though independent of cultures, the Gospel and evangelization are not necessarily incompatible with them; rather they are capable of permeating them all without becoming subject to any one of them."[13]

The evangelization of cultures and the inculturation of the Gospel go hand in hand, in a reciprocal relationship which presupposes constant discernment in the light of the Gospel, to facilitate the identification of values and countervalues in a given culture, so as to build on the former and vigorously combat the latter. In this inseparable pair, the inculturation of faith and the evangelization of culture, there can be no hint of syncretism or relativism. "In the face of all the different and at times contrasting cultures present in the various parts of the world, inculturation seeks to obey Christ's command to preach the Gospel to all nations even unto the ends of the earth. Such obedience does not signify either syncretism or a simple adaptation of the announcement of the Gospel, but rather the fact the Gospel penetrates the very life of cultures, becomes incarnate in them, overcoming those cultural elements that are incompatible with the faith and Christian living and raising their values to the mystery of salvation which comes from Christ" ("Pastores Dabo Vobis, 55).[14]

11. I would here like to draw upon the apostolic exhortation "Ecclesia in Asia" which points out the key areas of Inculturation. Referring to Asia, the words of the document are definitively relevant to India. In Christology, it noted that the theologizing is to be carried out with courage, in faithfulness to the Scriptures and to the Church's Tradition, in sincere adherence to the magisterium and with an awareness of pastoral realities.

The document stressed the need to ensure that the liturgy becomes an ever greater source of nourishment for their peoples through a wise and effective use of elements drawn from the local cultures. But it reminded that liturgical inculturation requires more than a focus upon traditional cultural values, symbols and rituals. There is also a need to take account of the shifts in consciousness and attitudes caused by the emerging secularist and consumer cultures which are affecting the Asian and Indian sense of worship and prayer.

Nor can the specific needs of the poor, migrants, refugees, youth and women be overlooked in any genuine liturgical inculturation in Asia. The document directed that an effective biblical apostolate be developed in order to ensure that the sacred text may be more widely diffused and more intensively and prayerfully used among the members of the Church in Asia. The apostolic exhortation stressed that the key aspect of inculturation upon which the future of the process in large part depends is the formation of evangelizers. It called for a solid grounding of seminarians in biblical and patristic studies, so that they acquire a detailed and firm grasp of the Church's theological and philosophical patrimony.

On the basis of this preparation, they will then benefit from contact with Asian philosophical and religious traditions. The Synod Fathers also encouraged seminary professors and staff to seek a profound understanding of the elements of spirituality and prayer akin to the Asian soul, and to involve themselves more deeply in the Asian peoples' search for a fuller life.

"Ecclesia in Asia" emphasized the need to ensure the proper formation of seminary staff and expresses a concern for the formation of men and women in the consecrated life, making it clear that the spirituality and lifestyle of consecrated persons needs to be sensitive to the religious and cultural heritage of the people among whom they live and whom they serve, always presupposing the necessary discernment of what conforms to the Gospel and what does not.

Finally the document points out that since the inculturation of the Gospel involves the entire People of God, the role of the laity is of paramount importance. It is they above all who are called to transform society, in collaboration with the bishops, clergy and religious, by infusing the "mind of Christ" into the mentality, customs, laws and structures of the secular world in which they live.[15]

India has had examples of great man like Roberto De Nobili, St. John de Britto, Father Camil Burke and others who tried to find ways and means to inculturate the Gospel in the lands where they evangelized. St. John de Britto, established himself as an Indian ascetic, a Pandara Suami, lived as they lived, dressed in saffron cloak and turban, and held retreats in the wilderness in southern India where interested Indians could visit him; Robert de Nobili, who within a year of his arrival in Madura acquired a complete mastery of Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit to the extent of being able to write in each of these languages and to leave behind commendable literature in these acquired languages.

De Nobili saw that, to make any impact on a highly sophisticated culture, he not only had to learn the language but also to find ways of adapting himself to the way of life of the people. He wrote many treatises in Tamil, Telegu and Sanskrit. After a lifetime spent in prayer, study and dialogue, he died, almost blind, in Mylapore in 1656. Three years later, his principles became official Roman policy — in 1659 the office of Propaganda Fide echoed de Nobili by stating unequivocally that European missionaries were to take with them not "France, Spain or Italy, or any part of Europe" but the Faith "which does not reject or damage any people's rites and customs."

Father Camil Bulke, a Belgian, India's most famous Christian Hindi scholar, enriched the Hindi and Sanskrit languages by his writings. He was an authority on the Rama theme and a well-known lexicographer. Thus in the face of all the different and at times contrasting cultures present in the various parts of the world, inculturation seeks to obey Christ's command to preach the Gospel to all nations even unto the ends of the earth.

Such obedience does not signify either syncretism or a simple adaptation of the announcement of the Gospel, but rather the fact the Gospel penetrates the very life of cultures, becomes incarnate in them, overcoming those cultural elements that are incompatible with the faith and Christian living and raising their values to the mystery of salvation which comes from Christ.[16]

12. In a country like India which is home to millennial traditional cultures and a cradle of World Religions, one cannot but insist on intercultural and interreligious dialogue. Our Lord Jesus Christ in his earthly life carried out his mission in constant dialogue with all men of good will. The aim of this dialogue was to make known to others the divine love revealed in his person. He was not afraid of talking to those considered outcastes and sinners in his society (Matthew 9:12) or to eat with tax collectors like Zaccheus (Luke 19:5), or have social interactions with religious leaders with whom he often had serious disagreements, as seen by his dinner at the house of Simon, the Pharisee (Luke 7:39).

He did not hesitate to engage a Samaritan woman in a dialogue which concludes with her recognizing Jesus as the Christ (John 4:9-29) even though Samaritans were considered schismatics and heretics by the Jews. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, from the start of his pontificate has continuously insisted on this dialogue. While addressing the delegates of other churches and ecclesial communities and leaders of other religious traditions a day after the inauguration of his pontificate, he said, "I assure you that the Church wants to continue building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions, in order to seek the true good of every person and of society as a whole."

Recently, he told the bishops taking part in the formation update meeting organized by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, "More and more, you are feeling the need to inculturate the Gospel, to evangelize cultures and to foster a sincere and open dialogue with one and all in order to build together a more brotherly and supportive humanity."[17] The Holy Father also cautions, "But this path of dialogue, while so necessary, must not make us forget our duty to rethink and to highlight just as forcefully the main and indispensable aspects of our Christian identity. Moreover, it is essential to keep clearly in mind that our identity requires strength, clarity and courage in light of the contradictions of the world in which we live."[18]

Since Vatican Council II, dialogue with all people has been a regular duty of the universal Church and local churches. One should hold dialogue with people of culture, followers of other religions and nonbelievers; dialogue about existential questions: sense of life and death, inner freedom of man, human problems that have religious dimensions, and even faith itself.

Dialogue should also concern serious problems of social life: upbringing of young people, poverty, solidarity, foundations of relationships in multicultural societies, values and human rights, religious and cultural pluralism, common good, ethics in economy and politics, beauty, ecology, biotechnology and bioethics, peace, etc. through an intercultural dialogue we try to help those who live and suffer, and seek sense and beauty of life every day.[19] The Catholic Cultural Centers that you head form part of the grass-roots level of society. You are in constant dialogue with the common man. Dialogue initiated and promoted by your Centers can go a long way in proclaiming the unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ. This dialogue has to be however conducted with mutual respect and reciprocity.

13. A witness of life. My dear Brothers and Sisters, once Mahatma Gandhi affectionately called the Father of the nation by you, was asked by someone, "What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India?" His reply was, "Christians." Jesus' command is loud and clear: We are to proclaim him to all nations. If we are to teach others to observe the commandments which he has taught us, then it is imperative that we teach by the example of our lives so that no one can again say like Gandhi: Christians are a hindrance to the spread of the faith in Christ.

The Church represents and continues the life of Christ in the world. As the Lord himself says, "And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world" (John 17:11). Therefore the life of the Church on earth cannot but be a reflection of the life of Christ. He has asked his disciples to be the "light" and the "salt" of the earth. This means that by its very presence the Church proclaims Christ. Witnessing is much more than just telling others about Christ. That is definitely part of it, but more than that, it is "being" a witness for him.

The best way to teach others about Christ and to make them desire to have Jesus in their own lives is to live a consistent, loving, Christ-centered life amongst them. In a deeply spiritual country like India, a life of prayer is the first witness to Christ. Jesus himself has promised us that Wherever two or three are gathered in his name, he is there among them (Matthew 18:20). A life of prayer accompanied by the coherence of right living provides evidence to the fact that he is the vine and we are the branches, the source of all grace without which nothing fruitful can be achieved.

The spirituality-filled cultures of India breathe the thirst for God and extol the men of God. Mother Teresa would exhort her listeners, "Keep the joy of loving God in your heart and share this joy with all you meet especially your family. Be holy — let us pray." It is from this very union with the Triune God in prayer that we become instruments of God's love in this world. To quote Mother Teresa again, "I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world."

As Christ was sent by the Father, so is the Church sent by Christ. Christ came as God's incarnate love. The Church continuing the mission of Christ is similarly called to be a self-gift. Through his humility, poverty and lowliness, he could identify himself with the marginalized, the poor, and the oppressed of society. Walking the way of the cross which is crowned by the reward of the resurrection, he gave a new meaning to human misery and suffering.

I would like to encourage the Church in India to continue to be Christ's compassionate face to the poor, the youth, the indigenous peoples, the suffering, as it has been so wonderfully doing down through the centuries. For as Jesus said, "as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40). An important element of our witness of love and life is the concern for social justice. All our societies and cultures are marred in some way by division, injustice, exploitation and marginalization.

Here in India, you too face these evils in various forms: the caste system, even untouchability in some places, child labor, exploitation of the poor, discrimination against the girl child in some regions of the country and grave difficulties for ethnic, religious and other minorities. With globalization which without doubt brings a lot of progress and development, there is also great danger that the poor and the marginalized become the victims of this progress.

The Church is not required to be involved directly in politics, as the Holy Father reminded us in his encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," "Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply."[20]

Even in this area you have examples in India. Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, the first tribal cardinal from Asia told the Asian Mission congress in Chiang Mai, Thailand, recently how Father Constant Lievens took helped the tribals in fighting injustice and won over their confidence thus leading them to Christ. He said, "Lievens taught the people to present their cases truthfully and honestly, took down the facts and proofs, put them in contact with trustworthy pleaders, and convinced them that justice could be obtained. Following his guidance and encouragement, they began to win their cases. They regained confidence in themselves, in their rights, in God. ... And so, the people eagerly listened to Lievens as gradually he also began to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ the unique and universal Savior, who could liberate, transform and empower them through baptism in water and the Holy Spirit."

My dear brothers and sisters, the Catholic Cultural Centers which you head are placed at the heart of humanity. I do not want to dwell much on these centers because Father Bernard Ardura will give you a talk on this. But I want to remind you that the Catholic Cultural Centers are public forums, places where people meet and reflect, study and learn, exchange ideas and develop the dialogue between faith and cultures. In the broad context of globalization, they offer Catholics, and anyone else interested in culture, opportunities for useful contact and conversation about the world and history, religion, culture and science, all of which helps to discern those values that can throw new light on existence and give meaning to life.[21]

Through these centers, you have the ability to touch the very core of the human person, to dialogue with those belonging to various cultures and religions so that we may be able to strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ and may find new ways to witness to this faith. I am looking forward to listening to your rich experiences and will keenly await your suggestions so that the input we get here may be helpful not only for the Church in India but for the whole world.

I think it would be fitting to conclude this talk with the words of one of your own Indian brothers, Cardinal Ivan Dias, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, "We must acknowledge and respect the precious treasures of the cultural and religious heritage which, like the three Wise Men who adored the child Jesus, all people carry in their bosom, as also the sincere efforts they are making to discover Truth by following their respective scriptures and saints as guiding stars. Just as the Wise Men were restless until they found Jesus and placed their treasures before him and adored him, so also the peoples of Asia, with their varied and rich cultures and religious heritage and traditions, will be restless until they find and adore him who alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. 'You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You' (St Augustine)".[22]


[1] Cfr. Robert P. Gwinn et al., "Bartholomew Saint," in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica 15, Vol. I, Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 1985, 924; cf. also Roman Martyrology and Roman Breviary.

[2] A.F.J. Klijn, "The Acts of Thomas : Introduction, Text and Commentary," Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2003.

[3] Cosme Costa, The Heritage of Govapuri, Pilar, Goa: Pilar Publications, 2002, 1-3, 21.

[4] Nandakumar Kamat, "Gopakapattana through the ages," Seminar Papers, Goa University and Directorate of Archives, published by BS Shastry, Panaji, 1987, 266.

[5] Cf. Pontifical Council for Culture, "A Pastoral Approach to Culture," Vatican City, 1999.

[6] Benedict XVI, Homily in the Easter Vigil, April 15, 2006.

[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 668.

[8] Second Vatican Council decree "Ad Gentes," § 8.

[9] Paul Poupard, "Proclamer le Christ aux cultures Asiatiques: promesse et realization," in Pontifical Council for Culture, "Proclaiming Christ to Asian Cultures: Promise and Fulfillment," Nagasaki Sunshin Catholic University, Japan, Oct. 15-17, 2002, Vatican City 2003, 27-47. See also Pontifical Council for Culture, "Christian Humanism: Illuminating With the Light of the Gospel the Mosaic of Asian Cultures. Proceedings of the Convention," Bangkok, Jan. 31-Feb. 3, 1999, Bangkok 1999.

[10] John Paul II, encyclical letter "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," §62.

[11] John Paul II, encyclical letter "Fides et Ratio," §72.

[12] Cf. Paul Poupard, "L'Eglise au défi des Cultures, Inculturation et Evangélisation," Desclée, Paris, 1989 ; Id. "The Church and Culture: Challenge and Confrontation," English translation by J.H. Miller, New Hope, KY, 1994, 22-24.

[13] Paul VI, apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Nuntiandi," §20.

[14] Cf. "A Pastoral Approach to Culture," §5.

[15] John Paul II, postsynodal exhortation "Ecclesia in Asia," §22.

[16] Cf. "A Pastoral Approach to Culture," §5. Cf. also John Paul II, postsynodal exhortation "Pastores Dabo Vobis," §55.

[17] Benedict XVI, Address to the Bishops taking part in the Formation Update Meeting Organized by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Rome, Sept. 23, 2006.

[18] Benedict XVI, Catechesis in the General Audience, Rome, Oct. 11, 2006.

[19] Cf. P. Poupard, "Mère Teresa, le Christ pour les pauvres," in "La sainteté au defi de l'histoire. Portrait de six témoins pour le 3ème millénaire. Conférences de Carême de Notre-Dame de Paris," Presses de la Renaissance, Paris 2003, pp. 51-93.

[20] Benedict XVI, encyclical letter "Deus Caritas Est," §28.

[21] Pontifical Council for Culture, "Catholic Cultural Centers," 4th Edition, Vatican City, 2005; Id., "Guide to Catholic Cultural Centers. Why? What Are They? What to Do?", Vatican City 2006.

[22] Cardinal Ivan Dias, homily of the Asian Mission Congress opening Mass, Oct. 19, 2006.

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