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Open Letter to Pope Francis – Can a Christian question the Church?

I write this open letter to you in utter disappointment and shock at the treatment meted out to me through slander, ridicule and threats by members of the Catholic Church because I chose to question the Archbishop Anil Couto of the Archdiocese of Delhi on his pastoral letter to clergy asking them to lead Catholics in India into fast and prayers for a new government.

The Archbishop of Delhi termed his letter as a call to fast and prayer to Christians every Friday as our nation prepares for its next General Elections in 2019.

He however also mentions that, “We are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation.”

It was this particular paragraph at the onset of the letter that had me disturbed and disillusioned about the intent and timing of such a letter.

I first read about the Archbishop’s letter incidentally on The Holy See’s news and information portal www.vaticannews.va.

Here is the link to the article: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2018-05/india-delhi-archdiocese-prayer-fast-campaign-couto.html

This article clearly is disturbing in its interpretation of the pastoral letter of the Archbishop Anil Couto.

Let me highlight the disturbing aspects of the Vatican News article:

“The five-year term of the federal government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ends in May 2019.

Christian leaders have accused the government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of tacitly supporting Hindu groups working to establish a Hindu nation, ignoring the interests of religious and ethnic minorities.

According to Christian groups, attacks against Christians rose after Modi came to power and have spiralled in recent years.

There were 736 attacks recorded against Christians in 2017 against 348 in 2016, according to data from Persecution Relief, an ecumenical forum that records Christian persecution in India and helps victims.”

The Vatican News further goes on to state that the Archbishop’s pastoral letter carried a special prayer composed for the nation.  It also asked parishes, religious houses and Catholic institutions to organize Eucharistic adoration every Friday and recite the prayer for the nation.

“Let the ‘ethos of true democracy envelop our elections’ and ‘flames of honest patriotism rekindle our political leaders’ in these troubled times as we see clouds eclipsing the light of truth, justice and freedom,” the prayer said.

The nation holds in “high esteem” the values of the constitution — equality, liberty and fraternity, and for people of all castes and faith live in peace away from violence and hatred, it added

It also called for people to “bless the nation with the revival of Gospel values.”

The Vatican News sourced the entire story from UCA News – The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) is the leading independent Catholic news source in Asia.

In order to speak openly and firmly, I wrote an open letter to the Archbishop of Delhi:

Open Letter to Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto – Archdiocese of Delhi

On a National TV show, I posed three questions to Archbishop Couto

1. Please define what did he mean by we are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere
2. Who or what is posing a threat to democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution
3. How is the secular fabric of our country under threat

Let me be upfront and brutally honest: My Christian parents imbibed in me values to love God, love my neighbour, love my country and then attend to matters of religion.

As an Indian first and a Christian later, I personally felt that the Archbishop’s Letter and in its interpretation carried in Vatican News painted the current government in my country as Pro-Hindu and Anti-Christian. This reportage originating out of the pastoral letter and prayer of the Archbishop Couto is false, exaggerated and appears to be towing the line of a political party that has been working furiously against the government stroking the fires of communal disharmony.

Let me also admit that there have been incident of violence plaguing some pockets of my country but in these violences Christians, Muslims and Hindus have been victims of atrocities. The nature of the violence have been of political and religious played out by different political and religious stakeholders to suit their propaganda. But those that mean all Christians in India are under threat.

As a Christian I and my family are free to practice our beliefs and endeavour to contribute to our nation with our skills and intelligence. We are not victims of atrocities or violence. Stray incidents that have not been openly accepted by the Catholic Church in India as official verifiable data cannot be the yardstick to turn my country as turbulent for Christians. That is untrue and has the nature of a propaganda.

After my open letter and related debate on the national TV channel TimesNow. I have been slandered, ridiculed and threatened by the laity of the Catholic Church.

My extended family too have ostracised me and have been pressuring my immediate family members to tender a public apology to the Catholic Church.

I have been termed Judas and a betrayer of the Church.

There is a ‘Fatwa’ issued on my name by a member of the Catholic Church (which is the first I have heard-off) offering a reward of Rupees 50000 to anyone who blackens my face and garlands me with shoes.

So it is in all humility and respect for the position you have been blessed with Pope Francis that I ask you the following three questions:

1. In a modern society does it augur well for the Catholic Church to subtly influence outcomes of electoral process of a nation it is keen of further spreading its Gospel messages through the process of conversion.
2. India is a sovereign and secular nation. Most importantly it a nation that truly imbibes the philosophy of unity in diversity, why would the Catholic Church subtly try and paint the nation and its current majority elected government as Pro-Hindu and Anti-Christians
3. If as a journalist I openly shared a view different to that of the Archbishop of Delhi, why have some members of the Catholic Church slandering, ridiculing and threatening me.

I pray that you will act to correct the wrong and restore through your good offices my Christian respect and right to share my views of the wrongs in the Catholic Church but I am a firm believer of the Holy Bible and the teachings of Jesus.

I will leave you with one of my favourite teaching from the Holy Bible Psalm 8:2 “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants. You have ordained strength. Because of Your enemies, that You may silence the enemy and the avenger.”

In my prayers always.

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