Indian archbishop emphasizes ‘mission’ at pallium ceremony

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MUMBAI, India – When receiving his pallium from the papal representative to India, Archbishop Elias Gonsalves said it was a reminder that he must take upon his shoulders the suffering and pain of people, and also remain united with the pope and the teachings of the Church.

The pallium – a thin, woolen strip worn over the shoulders – is the liturgical vestment of the Metropolitan archbishop. Every year, Pope Francis hands the vestment to newly appointed archbishops on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome; but under new rules, the vestment is actually placed liturgically upon the archbishop by the apostolic nuncio at a ceremony in his home archdiocese.

Gonsalves was named Archbishop of Nagpur last December, having previously served as the Bishop of Amravati from 2012.

Napur is the third largest city of the western Indian state of Maharashtra, serving as its winter capital (the rest of the year, the capital is Mumbai, the financial capital of India.)

Gonsalves was born in Maharashtra and served as a priest for the Archdiocese of Bombay, the former name of Mumbai. While still a priest in Bombay, he was director of the Center for Social Action and the Sarvodaya Center for Capacity Building.

Nagpur has a miniscule Catholic population: Just over 25,000 people out of a total population of 12,687,000, or only 0.2 percent. By comparison, the Archdiocese of Bombay is over 2 percent Catholic.

Despite the small size, Gonsalves said the Church of Nagpur has a “great role” to play in the region.

“Together we will become the missionaries who are baptized and sent,” he said. “Our languages, cultures and communities are important, but we must place with highest regard to the language of gratitude.”

Speaking to Crux after the ceremony, Gonsalves said as a missionary archdiocese, the Church in Nagpur “needs to reach out to the people.”

“In this mission area, there is need for social development, educational development, health issues, and the overall holistic development of the people are required,” the archbishop said.

“From that point of view, the challenge we face is the ‘bogey of conversions’ being raised, when we reach out to these people, and therefore, how do we overcome this conversion bogey and reach out to the people and make a difference in the lives of the poor, the marginalized, those who suffer crippling poverty,” he continued.

Gonsalves was alluding to accusations from Hindu nationalists in India that Christians use force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions.

Since 2014, India has been ruled by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has strong links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist organization.

The RSS headquarters are about six miles from the archbishop’s house, which he sees as an opportunity.

“We need to make inroads in dialogue and build interpersonal relationships through dialogue, overcoming prejudices and preconceived ideas about us,” Gonsalves said.  “We need to seek creative ways and reach out to build bridges and create a new atmosphere of confidence and trust.”

The archbishop noted that a big challenge for the Church in Nagpur isn’t external, but “within our own Catholic community.”

“How do we deepen the faith of our people? People are simple and have faith, but this needs to be renewed and revitalized, to awaken missionary zeal into our people,” he told Crux.

“We need to focus on training and creating a new leadership of lay faithful. Another challenge we face is the poverty among the Catholic community, too, and they too need holistic development,” he said.


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