Five years ago I was invited to address a meeting of the bishops of Hindi Speaking Regions on the topic “Missionary Thrust in the Hindi Belt”. While interacting with bishops after a short presentation, one of the bishops asked me to propose an action plan for ‘Empowering the Catholic Communities’ because it was the topmost priority I suggested in my presentation. After a month I prepared 10 point programme for the empowerment of Catholic communities and made available to some bishops.
Ever since the Modi government came to power at the centre, Muslims and Christians are being targeted by the Hindutva forces in order to further polarize the Hindus and expand the political influence of RSS-BJP combine throughout India. Besides the violent attacks by the Hindutva foot soldiers on the Muslims and Christians and their institutions, some of the policies adopted by the BJP governments both at the centre and in the states like beef ban are mainly meant for weakening the livelihood of these communities. Against this backdrop the main focus of the Catholic Church in India should be twofold:
1) promoting the core values enshrined in the constitution of India, particularly secular democracy and building harmony among different faith groups
2) holistic empowerment of the Christian/Catholic communities.
The strength of the Catholic Church in India is often projected through its high profile educational and health care institutions. But the real strength of the Church is the strength of its members. Hence holistic empowerment of the Christian communities should be the second top priority of the dioceses and the religious congregations. Pastoral care should not be limited to catechism, prayers and administration of sacraments. Pastoral care is to be redefined as holistic empowerment of the community. According to the teachings of Jesus God lives in the human beings with flesh and blood and not in the buildings and structures erected in the name of God.
Empowerment is a gradual process. Certain changes require concerted effort and patient accompaniment for a long time. The speed of the process of empowerment depends on the level of the person or community to be empowered and the strategies adopted by the facilitating agency. There is no magic wand to empower an individual or group because basically it is an internal process within the persons or community that is to be empowered.
The four levels in the process of empowerment are 1) Better self-image 2) Better self-confidence 3) Better Self Reliance and 4) Better self-expression and assertion. These internal changes have to take place in the members of the Christian communities through various activities. Only then we can say confidently that our people are really empowered.
Profile of the Catholic Communities in India
According to a study titled ‘Christian Communities in India: A Social and Historical Overview’ by Rowena Robinson the Christian community in India is composed of 50% scheduled castes, 15 to 20% tribals and about 30% upper caste Christians of Konkan and Kerala. Thus 70% of Christians in India are either dalits or tribals. Many studies show that tribals are at the bottom of the socio-economic and educational pyramid. Next to them are the dalits. The economic status and the human development indicators of these two communities are very low compared to others. Naturally human development of the members of the Catholic communities is to be focused in the empowerment process.
As in any other community there could be a creamy layer in the Catholic communities also. This creamy layer is to be motivated and encouraged to contribute to the empowerment of the less privileged in the community. The rich parishes in the Kerala, Goa and Mangalore are to be encouraged to adopt parishes in the mission dioceses mainly for supporting human resource development in the mission parishes.
TIPS FOR EMPOWERMENT OF CATHOLIC COMMUNITIES
The list of ten points given below is not an exhaustive one. There could also be better suggestions than what is given below. All tips need not be applicable to all places and communities.
1. Creating a Computerized Data Bank of the Catholic Families: A comprehensive household survey of the Catholic families, including need assessment, shall be made and the data are to be stored both at the parish level and the diocesan level. The data shall be updated every year. The data shall be used for the capacity building of the members of the Catholic community.
2. Assured Sustainable Income: All families should have an assured source of income. Skill training, upgrading the skills and starting income generation activities by the members of the family are the means for having an assured source of income.
3. Savings: All Catholic families should be encouraged to start some kind of savings. The families are to be motivated and guided to save something for the future. “ Don't save what is left after spending; spend what is left after saving. - Warren Buffett
4. Minimum Education- Class XII : All Catholic Children should pass Class 12 and the children should be assisted with special coaching in view of quality education. If the Catholic children are kept in the boarding houses the quality of the boarding houses are to be enhanced. The way the hostels/boarding houses are run at present in many dioceses is not at all satisfactory. The number in these hostels is to be reduced and quality is to be focused by paying attention to holistic development of children. The Catholic children, as many as possible, are to be encouraged and supported for higher education.
5. Career Guidance: All Catholic students shall be given career guidance sessions with IQ/Aptitude Test when they are in class IX and X and they shall be guided with regard to their future studies. Career Guidance sessions can be organized either at the parish level or at the diocesan level, depending upon the number of children present in each parish.
6. No Unemployed Catholic Youth : The diocese or parish shall aim at a goal of not having a single unemployed youth in the Catholic community. Every youth shall be guided and supported to develop skills suited to his/her aptitude and talents in such a way that she/he will be able to find a job: self-employment or employment in the private or government sector. Entrepreneurship training shall be organized to develop Catholic entrepreneurs.
7. Coaching Youngsters for Competitive Exams: Talented and capable youngsters shall be given coaching for appearing for Civil Service examination in view of developing catholic leaders, especially in the government. This shall be organized at the diocesan level or regional level. The government of India is providing grant to the minority communities for coaching its members for the competitive examinations. The dioceses shall make use of this provision for training their youth.
8. Training for Leadership: In view of developing enlightened, competent and committed leaders the parish and the diocese shall organize trainings for Catholic youth facilitated by experts. Special focus shall be given for grooming political leaders from the Catholic community.
9. Faith Formation: The ultimate goal of Faith Formation is that the members of the Catholic community must be able to imbibe and practice the core Christian Values as enshrined in the Gospels. The sacraments, prayers, devotions shall lead the faithful to this ultimate goal. The means should not become ends, as it happens sometimes.
The Catholic families are to be trained to read, reflect and pray on the word of God. The focus shall be practicing the core Christian values. Reflective prayer shall be given preference to an array of devotions and vocal prayers.
The focus of catechism shall be inculcating in the children and youth core Christian values as reflected in the Gospels. Creative and participatory methods are to be used for imparting the values. The Christian/Catholic youth shall make a difference in the schools and colleges because of their honesty, integrity, sensitivity and concern for the poor and the needy.
10. Training for Parish Priests: The priests who are to be appointed in charge of parishes should undergo a training of two to four weeks duration on participatory leadership after the model of Good Shepherd. They shall be trained to pay attention to the holistic development of the Catholic Community, focusing on each family.
If the Catholic communities in India are to be empowered the Church in India has to undergo a paradigm shift from institutional expansion to empowerment of its members. The mindset of the bishops and parish priests has to undergo a radical change. They have to become shepherds who care for their sheep.
(Published on 09th April 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 14 & 15)