The Archbishop of Delhi, Anil Couto, has come out with a circular, asking Christians to offer prayers and observe a day of fast on every Friday for a "secular nation" ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The letter, as published in an AsiaNews article, calls upon all Catholics to embark upon a year-long election campaign.
Here is the full text of the letter:
Dear Fathers, Brothers and Sisters,
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 is our hallowed practice to pray for our country and its political leaders all the time but all the more so when we approach the General Elections.
As we look forward towards 2019 when we will have [a] new Government, let us begin a Prayer Campaign for our country from May 13, 2018 which marks the Anniversary of the Apparition of the Blessed Mother at Fatima, consecrating ourselves and our nation to the Immaculate Heart.
I request that we observe a Day of Fast every Friday of the week by foregoing at least one meal and offering our penance and all our sacrifices for our spiritual renewal and that of our nation.
Moreover, I earnestly request that we organize an hour of Eucharistic Adoration every Friday at a convenient time in all our parishes, religious houses and institutions, specifically praying for our nation.
During this Adoration the enclosed Prayer may be recited.
With kind regards.
*Archbishop of Delhi
According to an NDTV report, along with the letter is attached a prayer that all churches have been instructed to read out during mass, which says: "May the ethose of true democracy envelop our elections with dignity and the flames of honest patriotism enkindle our political leaders. This is our cry, Heavenly Father, in these troubled times as we see the clouds eclipsing the light of truth, justice and freedom."
However, the Archbishop's office has denied any political motive in the prayer, calling it a standard practice before elections.
Archbishop’s secretary, Father Robinson Rodrigues told The Times of India that such prayer campaigns took place before every general election, but the exercise was being politicised this time.
"The call for prayer for peace and free and fair elections happens before every election. It happened in 2014 and before that too. Only this time a political colour is being deliberately given to the whole exercise by some people,” Father Rodrigues said.
But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) haven't taken kindly to this diktat of the Archbishop. RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha termed the move as a "direct attack on Indian secularism and democracy".
"This is a direct attack by the Church on Indian secularism and democracy, and this is a direct intervention by the Vatican as these Bishops are appointed by the Pope. Their accountability is not to India but to Pope," Sinha told the Outlook magazine.
"Another big reason for this is after the formation of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, church-oriented NGOs, received less money due to stricter laws. The Church organisations used to take this money for a variety of cause but in reality, utilise this only for religious conversions. They want a government to be made so that their conversion business flourishes," Sinha added.
Sinha also took to Twitter to vent his thoughts on the matter.
"Missionaries by meddling in politics giving bad name to Indian Christians. "Conversion Enterprise' is facing threat under nationalist government. Cash flow under FCRA is reduced from RS 17773 crores in 2015-16 to 6795 crores in16-17. This had hit them very hard," he tweeted.
BJP's Shaina NC also criticised the Archbishop's circular, saying, "Wrong to try and instigate castes or communities. You can tell them to vote for the right candidate or party but to suggest to vote for one party and not another and term yourself as secular is unfortunate."
While Home Minister Rajnath Singh, commenting on the matter, told PTI, "Discrimination on basis of religion, sect or any such thing not allowed in India"
However, it is not the first time the Church has delivered statements of this sort ahead of elections. In December 2017, during the Gujarat Assembly elections, the Archbishop of Gandhinagar Thomas Macwan issued a letter to defeat the “nationalist forces” and prevent them from “taking over the country”. Various churches were hell-bent on defeating the BJP in the recently held elections in the northeastern states like Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, even though people shunned their divisive agenda.
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Updated Date: May 22, 2018 13:28 PM