VATICAN CITY, JUN 3, 2003 (VIS) - Pope John Paul today received 28 Latin Rite prelates of India, at the conclusion of their obligatory quinquennial "ad limina" visit.
In his talk to them in English, he noted that their dioceses are "fertile ground" for the harvest of faith, underscoring that local Catholic Churches may be "materially poor, especially when compared to other Christian communities, (but) they are rich in human resources." In particular the Pope remarked on "the impressive numbers of religious and diocesan vocations in your provinces, and the high percentage of faithful who attend Sunday Mass."
"Notwithstanding these positive signs," he went on, "your dioceses are also faced with challenges. The negative influence of the mass media, secularism, materialism, and consumerism, compounded by the false promises of a few fundamentalist groups, have lured some Catholics into giving up their faith. Sadly, even some members of the clergy have, at times, been attracted by half empty promises of money, comfort and power."
The Holy Father then turned to the pastoral initiatives needed to face these challenges, saying they must be rooted in "the four Christian pillars of holiness, prayer, the sacraments and the Word of God. ... Effective pastoral planning must be contextualized in such a way that it addresses the problems created by modern society," such as "the movement towards a culture of death, as seen for example in the menacing threats directed towards unborn children, especially unborn girls. ... Remain vigilant in your efforts to preach fearlessly the consistent teaching of the Church regarding the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being."
He remarked that "globalization has also challenged traditional customs and ethics. This is clearly seen in attempts to impose upon Asian society morally unacceptable types of family planning and reproductive health measures. At the same time, an incorrect understanding of the moral law has led many people to justify immoral sexual activity under the guise of freedom, which in turn has resulted in a commonplace acceptance of the contraceptive mentality." He said all this helps to "contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS which is reaching epidemic proportions in your country."
Citing "Evangelium Vitae," John Paul II declared: "The efforts which respect the dignity and rights of women must be made to guarantee that at all levels of Indian society a 'new feminism' is promoted. This will 'reject the temptation of 'male domination', in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society and overcome all discrimination and exploitation'."
The Pope remarked that St. Francis Xavier, "who did so much for the spread of Christianity in India, possessed the ability to minister successfully in a non-Christian environment." He said he hoped the Church in India would imitate this saint, adding "This is not an easy task, especially in areas where people experience animosity, discrimination and even violence because of their religious convictions or tribal affiliation. These difficulties are exacerbated by the increased activity of a few Hindu fundamentalist groups which are creating suspicion of the Church and other religions. Unfortunately, in some regions the State authorities have yielded to the pressures of these extremists and have passed unjust anti-conversion laws, prohibiting free exercise of the natural right to religious freedom, or withdrawing State support for those in ... castes who have chosen to convert to Christianity."
In conclusion, Pope John Paul stated that "the Church in India must never relinquish her fundamental task of evangelization." He urged bishops to "continue to engage local leaders of other religious beliefs in an interreligious dialogue" and to "maintain a substantive dialogue with local and national authorities to ensure that India continues to promote and protect the basic human rights of all its citizens."