Rites Should Not Cause Divisions, Pope Tells Bishops of India

Bishops Concluding Their 'Ad Limina' Visit

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 13, 2003 (Zenit.org).- "Authentic evangelization is sensitive to local culture and customs," John Paul II said when receiving the Catholic bishops of India.



The Indian bishops met the Holy Father before concluding their 'ad limina' visit to Rome in two separate gatherings, one for the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Churches, the other for the Syro-Malankara Churches. Their origins, according to tradition go back 1950 years, when they received the Gospel from the lips of the Apostle, St. Thomas.

The Holy Father stressed, particularly to the Eastern rite Catholics who have an extraordinary cultural richness, that differences in rituals should not be the cause of divisions within the Church.

Christians of the Syro-Malabar Church, belonging to the Chaldean ritual tradition, have Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil as their pastor. This Church numbers over 3.5 million faithful. In 1992, John Paul II recognized it as an "autonomous Church" in full communion with Rome.

The great vitality and growth of the Syro-Malabar Church is reflected especially in the great number of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Close to 70% of the 120,000 vocations in India -- whose Catholic population numbers 15 million -- come from this Church.

The Syro-Malankara Church belongs to the Antiochian ritual tradition, and has as its pastor, Archbishop Cyril Mar Baselios of Trivandrum who is also president of the episcopal conference of India.

This Church of 400,000 faithful, 4 dioceses, 7 Bishops, and 4 religious Congregations, recovered full communion with Rome in 1930, at the time of Pius XI.

"Evangelization lies at the heart of the Christian faith. India, blessed with so many different cultures, is a land in which the people yearn for God; this makes your distinctly Indian liturgy an excellent way of evangelization," the Pope said.

"Authentic evangelization is sensitive to local culture and custom, always respecting the 'inalienable right' of each and every person to religious freedom," he added.

"Here the principle remains valid: 'The Church proposes, she imposes nothing' (Redemptoris Missio, 39)." This "openness, however, can never diminish the obligation to proclaim Jesus Christ as 'the Way, and the Truth, and the Life' (John 14:6). For the Incarnation of the Lord enriches all human values, enabling them to bear new and better fruit," he said.

In this connection, the Pope made several recommendations to Eastern rite Catholics.

Addressing the Syro-Malabar bishops, John Paul II urged them to keep the Eucharist as "the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history, in particular, "against unwarranted experimentation by individual priests which violate the integrity of the liturgy itself and can also cause great harm to the faithful."

The Holy Father also invited them to renew their "ritual patrimony," but emphasized the "urgent need to overcome the fears and misunderstandings which appear at times between the Eastern Churches and the Latin Church."

When addressing the bishops of the Syro-Malankara Church, the Holy Father said: "At a moment of growing secularism and, at times, of blatant disregard for the sanctity of human life, bishops are called to remind the people by their preaching and teaching of the need for an ever deeper reflection on moral and social issues."

"All Christians are obliged to participate in this prophetic mission by taking a firm stand against the current crisis of values and by constantly reminding others of the universal truths which must be manifest in daily living," the Pope concluded.