A few days back, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis called on Vasai Archbishop Felix Machado at the Bishop’s House, ahead of the Lok Sabha by-poll in Palghar constituency. This parliamentary seat has a sizeable population of Christians. The Christians can decide the poll outcome in this Lok Sabha seat and two assembly constituencies. CM Fadnavis had therefore called on the Archbishop to woo the votes of the Christians.
CM Fadnavis cannot be blamed for calling on the Archbishop to seek the minority votes for the BJP. It is an open secret that the Church does play an important role in shaping the views of its faithful in any poll. When there are attacks on the Christians or when their rights on food consumption, freedom of worshiping and preaching are threatened, the Church has always been very vocal in voicing its concerns. The period of elections therefore serves as an occasion for the Church to caution the faithful to vote wisely to ensure protection of these rights. The recent appeal of Delhi’s Archbishop Anil Couto therefore should be seen as in consistence with the Church’s practice to periodically ask Christians - and also others - to vote for those who will uphold all the democratic rights enshrined in the nation’s Constitution and protect the secular fabric of the nation. A look at Archbishop Couto’s pastoral letter will reveal that he has not said anything objectionable.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), the apex body of the Catholic Church in the country, issues nationwide appeal to the faithful before the general polls to vote for those who will uphold the fundamental rights of the citizens, ensure social, communal harmony and well-being of all citizens, protect democratic rights and secular principles as enshrined in the Constitution. The Election Commission of India has never found contents of these appeals as objectionable or partisan to any particular political parties.
In the recent years, the country has seen an alarming rise in the atrocities against the dalits, Muslims and Christians in connection with the issues of consumption of beef, cow slaughter, cow vigilantism, conversion and Ghar Wapsi. The members of the Christian community, a majority of whom are erstwhile dalits and tribals, are directly affected by these sensitive issues and the Church has on a regular basis voiced its concerns to safeguard the rights of its flock. The period before any elections therefore is used by the Church all over the country to appeal to the devotees and others to vote only for those who will preserve the nation’s social harmony and secular fabric.
Unfortunately, some political parties and organisations perceive these appeals as directed against them. The words such as secular, nationalist and nationalism, patriotism, freedom of expression and dissent have obtained altogether different connotations in the recent years. Those espousing the cause of secularism, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and democratic principles are therefore perceived to be the critics of the powers that be. Delhi’s Archbishop Anil Couto’s well-intentioned appeal is a victim of this perverse perception.
Full text of Archbishop Couto’s letter
“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 organise an hour of Eucharistic Adoration every Friday at a convenient time in all our parishes, religious houses and institutions, specifically praying for our nation.”