Thursday, March 02, 2006

Karnataka Bishops Pastoral Letter



Dear Reverend Fathers, Brothers, Sisters and the People of God,

Grace and Peace of Jesus Christ to all of you!

We, the Bishops of the Karnataka Region, are happy to send you this Lenten Pastoral Letter-2006. In this Pastoral Letter we have highlighted two main themes, namely, ‘Reconciliation through Inner Transformation’ and ‘Sharing God’s love through the Educational Apostolate’.

I. Reconciliation through Inner Transformation

The words from the prophet Joel are proclaimed in the first Reading at Mass on Ash Wednesday, the day which marks the beginning of the holy season of Lent, when the Liturgy once more calls the faithful to radical conversion and trust in God's mercy. On that day the rite of the imposition of the blessed ashes is carried out as a mark of our repentance, an acknowledgement that we are sinners and that we need to be reconciled with God and with one another. The prayer of blessing over the ashes reads:

"Lord, bless the sinner who asks for your forgiveness and bless all those who receive these ashes. May they keep this Lenten season in preparation for the joy of Easter."
The Lenten season is a period of discernment in the light of God's Grace. It is an occasion to take time off, at least now and then, from our routine daily activity in order to assess exactly our relationship with God, with ourselves and with our neighbours. It is a time for looking at our set of values and our range of priorities. It is a time for finding sufficient space in our lives so as to give voice to our inner conscience, which is defined by the Second Vatican Council as "the most secret core and sanctuary of a man."

Over the course of generations, the Christian mind has gained from the Gospel a fine sensitivity to the sense of sin. This sense is rooted in man's moral conscience and is as it were its thermometer. It is linked to the sense of God, since it derives from man's conscious relationship with God as his Creator, Lord and Father. Hence, just as it is impossible to eradicate entirely the sense of God or to silence the conscience completely, the sense of sin too is never eliminated.

In the inner sanctuary of the human person, there is always a delicate interplay between the sense of God and the sense of sin. Immersed as we are in a world which becomes more and more secularist, the moral conscience of the individual may become weakened under pressure from certain standards and values, resulting in the obscuring of the sense of sin and ultimately of the sense of God.

'Secularism' is by nature and definition a movement of ideas and behaviour, which may lead to humanism totally without God, completely centred upon the cult of action and production and caught up in the heady enthusiasm of consumerism and pleasure seeking. Humanism without God cannot does undermine the sense of sin. The true sense of sin is a sense of offence against God. In our present day society, where self-sufficiency and achievement are the hallmarks of personal success, when the so-called "taboos" of the past have given way to a false sense of freedom which seems to justify life-styles which obscure and deaden the sense of God and of offence against him, which is sin, we need to be reminded that there is a God, compassionate and all-loving, who calls each individual to a personal encounter with him as he cries out: "Come back to me with all your heart" (Joel 2:12).

The way back to God may seem difficult and forbidding, as did that of the Prodigal Son, but the assurance is that the Father is there waiting to welcome us back with open arms. The beginning of that road back entails a personal decision, a conversion: "Then he came to his senses and said… I will leave this place and go to my father" (Lk. 15:17-18).

The journey back to reconciliation with the Father and to the re-establishing of relations with the Him, broken by sin, is through the person of Christ, "The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (Jn. 1:29). Christ entrusts to the Apostles the mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God and of preaching the Gospel of conversion. After His Resurrection, as the Apostolic Mission is about to begin, Jesus grants the Apostles the authority to reconcile repentant sinners with God and with His Church through the power of the Holy Spirit: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven" (Jn.20:23). The encounter with the all-merciful and loving God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation was won for us, priest and penitent alike, by the Sacrifice of the Son of God on the Cross. The faculty granted by the Risen Christ to his Apostles and handed down through the Apostolic tradition continues to bear fruit in the Church every time a repentant sinner seeks reconciliation. The penitent, having made the decision to "come back with all his/her heart" (cf. Joel 2:12), and seek forgiveness of sin, must be prepared, in conscience, to repent and make amends. This demands, on the part of each individual penitent, a threefold action: contrition, confession and satisfaction.

The essential act of Penance, on the part of the penitent, is contrition, a clear and decisive rejection of the sin committed, together with a resolution not to commit it again, out of the love which one has for God and which is reborn with repentance.

Contrition and conversion are drawing one near to the holiness of God, enabling one to rediscover one's true identity, which has been upset and disturbed by sin. Thus, liberating one in the very depth of self and renewing the hope of regaining the lost joy, the joy of being saved. The encounter between the Prodigal Son and his Father was prefaced by a sincere confession on the part of the son: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you" (Lk. 15:21). Sin creates a rupture in relations between the sinner and God, it inflicts a wound which, if not healed, will fester. The personal confession of sins to the Priest, who acts 'in the person of Christ', enables the priest to exercise his role as healer in the Sacramental action. This personal encounter is of vital importance to the penitent since, through it, he/she touches the very holiness of God.

“God is always the one who is principally offended by sin and God alone can forgive. Hence the absolution that the priest, the minister of forgiveness, though himself a sinner, grants to the penitent, is the effective sign of the intervention of the Father in every absolution and the sign of the 'resurrection' of a sinner from 'spiritual death'. Resurrection is renewed each time that the Sacrament of Penance is administered. Only faith can give us certainty that at that moment every sin is forgiven and blotted out by the mysterious intervention of the Saviour.” (John Paul II: Misericordia Dei. No.31)

The personal confession of sins ensures that the healing power of God's Grace in the Sacrament will enable the penitent to avoid the future occasions of sin, to change a life-style which is not in keeping with the mind and heart of the Saviour and to make amends for any hurt caused. In response to a practice that, in the use of the second Rite of Reconciliation, might lead one to think that it is sufficient to state in general one's sorrow for sin, the late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, recently stated:

"Any practice which restricts confession to a generic accusation of sin or of only one or two sins, judged to be more important, is to be reproved. Indeed, in view of the fact that all the faithful are called to holiness, it is recommended that they confess venial sins as well."(John Paul II Reconciliatio et Poenitentia No.31).
Satisfaction is the final act which crowns the Sacramental sign of Penance. Normally this is called one's penance. It is what the penitent agrees to do after having been reconciled with God. It may consist in acts of charity, gestures of reconciliation with others, commitment to find that special space in one's daily life to acknowledge God's presence and His goodness and mercy shown in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

As one rises, renewed and restored by the Grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a whole new chapter in one's life begins. The freshness of renewal, the commitment to live the Christian way of life and the joy of knowing that one is restored to friendship with God give the penitent a sense of peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation. This satisfaction and fulfillment will be experienced only when we are reconciled with God and others, and share His love with our less-fortunate brothers and sisters.

II. Sharing God’s love through the Educational Apostolate

To live our Christian life is always challenging and demanding. However, we would be able to live this life only with God’s Grace and our unswerving Christian discipleship, which calls for a price to pay. The price is: “Selfless Service.”

It is in this context that we reproduce here the concluding statement of the 27th General Body Meeting of the Bishops of India. As you all are aware, the General Body of the CBCI met at St. Peter’s Pontifical Seminary, Bangalore, from 8th-15th February 2006. The theme of the Meeting was: Catholic Education and the Church’s concern for the marginalized. The CBCI in its Final Statement has laid down certain broad guidelines within which we should work to share God’s love, by imparting education to all, particularly to the marginalized sections of the society. The highlights are given here-below to help the Pastors and Heads of the Institutions to implement these directives in their respective parishes/institutions. Of course, we cannot achieve everything overnight; but with a common vision and a concerted effort, we certainly can make our dreams a reality! Here are the highlights of the final statement:

1. To ensure that every Catholic child has a place in our educational institutions. No Catholic child, dalit/tribal or otherwise, should be deprived of quality education because of a lack of means. We should keep in mind that a Catholic school has a special obligation to cater to Catholic children.

2. To try to establish more hostels/boarding houses, especially in rural areas, since these have proved very effective in imparting a sound education to the marginalized.

3. To ensure that every Catholic educational institution has a special concern for the marginalized, especially the girl-child. We should voluntarily exercise a reservation policy by which a quota in all our educational institutions is kept for the marginalized. Those disadvantaged, socially, physically or intellectually, should be specially assisted, so that they may be integrated into our educational system. We make this our preferential option, even if in this process the academic results of our institutions suffer. All Catholic educational institutions whether run by the Dioceses, the Religious, corporate bodies or individuals, are expected to participate in this project. We deplore all attempts to commercialize education. In particular, we should not accept capitation fees. We urge the Government to lay down a just fee structure, so as to obviate the need of taking capitation fees or the so called donations.

4. To identify talented children from the marginalized sections of the society with a view to preparing them for higher and professional education. Among them, we hope to train a select group for social and political leadership.

5. To make this possible, Dioceses and Religious Congregations should try to mobilise funds. Well-established institutions should support the economically weaker ones.

6. All our institutions should immediately start implementing these proposals. Further, with a view to giving our educational apostolate a decided thrust towards the marginalized, this General Assembly of the CBCI lays down that within a year, a National Education Policy for the Church in India be drawn up, taking into account the deliberations at this Meeting. The CBCI Commission for Education and Culture is hereby entrusted with this task. In drawing up this Policy, it will take the help of the SC/ST/BC Commission and the Justice, Peace and Development Commission, as well as the CRI and others engaged in educational apostolate. Once this Policy will have been approved, all the educational institutions are expected to implement it. The CBCI will set up a Monitoring Body to ensure its implementation.
It is now our responsibility as Bishops of the Karnataka Region to give effect to these policy guidelines. How shall we do this? Perhaps, by adhering strictly to the following ten points:

1. We need to ensure that Catholics are not denied admission to Catholic educational institutions.

2. We need to encourage admissions of the marginalized to these institutions.

3. We need to ensure that no Capitation fees of any kind are charged in these institutions.

4. As far as possible, free education should be given to our really poor Catholic children, who cannot afford to pay for their education.

5. An Educational Fund should be mobilised in order to sponsor the education of students, who are really poor and/or from the marginalized sections of the society.

6. At least a basic education up to the X standard must be given to all our Catholic students, especially to the marginalized.

7. We need to improve the quality of teaching in our institutions. As regards the ways and means of achieving this, a careful study should be undertaken. Evidently, higher pay scales will attract more gifted teachers. But it also means paying the existing teachers more for what they are doing now. Perhaps, this could be linked with higher studies and appropriate incentive schemes set up for overtime and special coaching classes for students who are poor in studies.

8. Our Catholic institutions should strive to impart faith formation to Catholic children and value education to all the students.

9. Our children should be taught to become responsible media consumers, and teachers and students should be given proper media orientation.

10. We need to increase the Catholic presence in the field of education. Of the 56 million people in Karnataka, about 1 million are Catholics. Even these are concentrated mostly in one or two big cities in the Region. Therefore, we need to increase our educational efforts in other parts of the State, where Catholic presence is less significant. The Church’s purpose in establishing Christian presence in these areas is not merely to meet the needs of the Catholics, but also to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, through educational, medical and other social services among those who do not know the Lord as yet.
As we set out on our Lenten journey, may we always be conscious that He who came among us in order to reveal his Father's love for us and to show us the way back to Him, will walk with us on our journey of uplifting the poor and the marginalized. He will listen to us and guide us as we walk along with Him and make efforts to empower our less-fortunate brothers and sisters. He will explain to us the richness of God's love and mercy towards us as we read the Sacred Scriptures and when we sit at the Eucharistic Table with Him. As He breaks bread with us, He will reveal Himself to us (Lk. 24:30-31) as "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (Jn. 14:6). May we take Him at His Word and look for a personal encounter with Him during this Lent, in our Service for the poor and the marginalised. May we make of this period of Grace an intense preparation for the celebration of the Easter Mystery, so that, through him we may become an Easter People who instil hope in the lives of the poor and the marginalized.

Our present Holy Father, Pope BENEDICT XVI in his first Encyclical Letter DEUS CARITAS EST has very beautifully enlightened us on CHRISTIAN LOVE. While enumerating the different aspects of love, the Holy Father speaks very clearly on sharing God’s love with the marginalized: “With regard to the personnel who carry out the Church's charitable activity on the practical level, the essential has already been said: they must not be inspired by ideologies aimed at improving the world, but should rather be guided by the faith which works through love (cf. Gal 5:6). Consequently, more than anything, they must be persons moved by Christ's love, persons whose hearts Christ has conquered with his love, awakening within them a love of neighbour. The criterion inspiring their activity should be Saint Paul's statement in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: “the love of Christ urges us on” (5:14). The consciousness that, in Christ, God has given himself for us, even unto death, must inspire us to live no longer for ourselves but for him, and, with him, for others. Whoever loves Christ loves the Church, and desires the Church to be increasingly the image and instrument of the love which flows from Christ. The personnel of every Catholic charitable organization want to work with the Church and therefore with the Bishop, so that the love of God can spread throughout the world. By their sharing in the Church's practice of love, they wish to be witnesses of God and of Christ, and they wish for this very reason freely to do good to all.” (Deus Caritas Est. No. 33)

The deliberations of the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops’ Council (KRCBC) held on 23-24 February at St. Peter’s Pontifical Seminary has been greatly inspired by the clarion call of the Holy Father to share God’s love with others and the proposals made by the CBCI in its final statement to promote the educational apostolate among the poor and the marginalized. All the 16 Regional Commissions set up to implement the Karnataka Regional Pastoral Plan (KRPP) reviewed their activities and planned their future action plans in the light of the proposals made by the General Body Meeting of the CBCI. Some of these proposals have thrown further light on the objectives of the Regional Commission for Education.

Our main concern is to impart education to all, especially to the poor children and to those who belong to the marginalized sections of the society. We, the Bishops of the Region, firmly believe that only through education can we eradicate illiteracy and poverty, and make our less-fortunate brothers and sisters self-reliant. To achieve this objective, we need your whole-hearted support and cooperation, especially your generous contributions to mobilize funds for education of the poor students in our respective Dioceses/Parishes.

At the meeting, we took stock of the existing realities in the Region and laid down the above ten points exclusively for our Karnataka Region. It is our responsibility to translate our faith into action and, thus, enkindle a ray of hope in the lives of those who feel that their future is bleak! If all of us work together with a definite purpose, we can certainly share God’s love through our various ministries, especially the educational ministry. Let us re-dedicate our lives to the greater glory of God and to the service of the poor and the marginalized in our society. May our Heavenly Father form in us the likeness of His Son and deepen His life within us. May He send us as witnesses of Gospel joy into a world of fragile peace and broken promises by touching the hearts of all of us with His love that we in turn may love one another. Let us also entrust our Lenten journey to Mary, our Blessed Mother, so that she may lead us to her Son.

We wish all of you A Holy Season of Lent and a Joyful Time of Easter! And, we also impart our cordial blessings to all of you!

Sd/- The Bishops of Karnataka

Posted by Charan Colaco

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Anonymous said...

Dear sir,

I just read this article and it was quite interesting. I fully agree with your concern for the catholic students who need to be educated, specially the girls.

However, all this is just on paper and has absolutely no effect with the Principals of the catholic colleges such as St.Joseph's and Christ college, as far as giving a seat for a deserving catholic student goes, even though they have scored 1st class marks (above 75%). They prefer to take a non-catholic student who has scored above 90% and have driven out catholic students, just so that they can make a name for themselves as top grade colleges in India.

Many catholic girl students who scored first class marks in the 2nd PUC were denied seats for B.Com in preference to Non-catholic students. These girls have now vowed never to enter a church again. Such was their pain at being denied a seat, even though they were students of the same college. Should we be driving away our children from the Catholic faith?. Can the Catholic Bishops please answer this. Sorry to say this, but our Priestly college Principals are certainly doing their best to send our children away from the christian faith. At this rate, very soon we will have very few catholics left.

I request the Bishops to look into this very seriously.
"what is the use of gaining the
whole world and suffering the loss of your own soul"



Konkani Catholics said...

Dear Gentlman,

Thank you for your thoughtfulness. Yours is indeed a point to note.

Your Archbishop is very much aware of this problem and its seriousness but looks like his appeal is falling on deaf ears.

Let us pray that the Catholic schools pay heed to his appeal so that their labours may bear fruit, fruit that lasts.