Christianity as Indian as Indic religions: Mukherjee
New Delhi, Dec. 13, 2018: Christianity is as Indian a religion as those that originated in the country, says former President Pranab Kumar Mukherjee.
“Indigenization, adaptation and respect of local customs and traditions have made Christianity as Indian a religion as the ones that originated in its ancient geographical boundaries,” Mukherjee asserted on December 13 while addressing Christmas celebrations organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) in New Delhi.
The former president, who was the chief guest of the program held at the downtown Diocesan Community Centre, noted that the Church’s 2000 years of existence in India has been “more Renaissance and Reformation and rarely about Evangelism.”
For Mukherjee, “the most enduring images of the Catholic Church in India” are millions of Indians, who study in its educational institutions, and hundreds of thousands of patients who get healed in its hospitals.
CBCI president Cardinal Oswald Gracias presents a statue of baby Jesus to former president Pranab Mukherjee.
“The Catholic Clergy in India is personified by the priest or nun in a habit, the very image of whose brings to one’s mind, discipline and dedication. It is the heartening images of Missionaries of Charity led by Mother Teresa, tending to the last person on the margin of society that personifies the Church in India,” he added.
Mukherjee’s assertion comes in the backdrop of calls from some rightwing groups to cleanse India off Christianity by 2021.
In December 2014, “Dharm Jagran Samiti” (society to awaken religion), a radical Hindu group engaged in conversion of Christians and Muslims into their religion, declared that it will ensure India becomes a Hindu nation by 2021. It wanted all Muslims and Christians in India to convert to Hinduism if they want to stay in this country.
Mukherjee, a practicing Hindu who studied history and political science for masters degree, noted that mankind’s civilizational history was essentially the playing out of the struggle between the universal good and its antithesis. At the end it was always the good that won, he noted.
“Aberrations of a crusade, a jihad or violent struggles between sects in India, were always defeated in the favor of longer reigning brotherhood, peace and resultant prosperity of mankind,” he added.
Mukherjee, who turned 83 on December 11, reminded the gathering of some 500 people that Christmas stands for “eternal and omnipresent values of compassion, forgiveness and universal love” that Christ proclaimed.
Every religion, he noted, “strove to direct human endeavors towards the three basic tenets of Truth, Compassion and Righteousness. It was these tenets that comprised the Ram Rajya of Hinduism, Dharma of Buddhism, the Holy Kingdom of Christianity and many more.”
Mukherjee, who served as India’s 13th president during 2012-2017, agreed that the country was going through troubled time. “Divisive tendencies, intolerance and prejudiced ‘fear of the other’ seem to be defining us.”
However, he viewed such trends and a temporary phase and expressed the hope his country would recapture the composite and yet diverse culture it has nurtured over 5,000 years through co-existence, adaption and assimilation.
“India and Indians will tenaciously fight this in order to once again establish our unique national identity which has emerged out of our civilizational values and remains etched ever so clearly in our Magna Carta – the Constitution of India,” Mukherjee asserted.
The former president points out that India is a nation of 1.3 billion people, who use more than 122 languages and 1600 dialects, practice seven major religions, belong to 3 major ethnic groups – Caucasians, Mongoloids, and Dravidians.
Nevertheless, they live under one system, one flag and one identity and carry the identity of being Indian.
“There can be many conflicting visions of the idea of India, but we can all agree that India is a truly beautiful idea that very naturally encompasses all its conflicting visions. Sooner than later, it is this idea of India which will prevail. Our history bears testimony to this,” the former president said.
CBCI president Cardinal Oswald Gracias, in his Christmas message, said the feast assures that God is with humans. “It is also a challenge to all of us that we need to be agents of peace and harmony even as the whole world welcomes Jesus yet once again,” he added.
The program started with the opening prayer led by Archbishop Emeritus Vincent Concessao of Delhi.
CBCI secretary general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, in his welcome address announced the theme of the celebration this year – United in diversity for a mission of service and witness” — the theme of the Church in India for the year.
Justice Kurien Joseph, retired Supreme Court judge, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, and federal Minister of State for Tourism K J Alphons were among those present on the occasion.