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Bishop of India: Christian presence combats caste system

He is the first bishop of the biggest diocese in India, Shamshabad, which includes 23 states and two islands. It's an eparchy of the Syro-Malabar Rite, created two years ago by Pope Francis to strengthen unity among Christian Indians.

Msgr. Raphael Thattil's diocese has another mission: to care for migrants and those who suffer most. This mission extends beyond India's borders. For instance, many members of the diocese have traveled to Iraq to aid Christians in that country.

Bishop of Shamshabad, India
“The Syro-Malabar Rite has a lot of indebtedness, a lot of gratitude, toward the Chaldean Church. Now when we had heard through the visit of the Patriarch of the Catholic Chaldean Church, the difficulties, the crisis under which the Chaldean Church is moving forward, he asked us whether it is possible to send back missionaries 'as we had once sent supporting missionaries to your Church.' So we have accepted it and we have sent a bunch of priests and a bunch of sisters to take care of the needs of the Chaldean Church.”

This link uniting the Chaldean Church and the Indian Church originated in the first century thanks to Thomas the Apostle.

In both countries, Christians are a minority, and thus, a population often deprived of its rights. In India, the Church works to promote respect and dignity for the poorest people, which many times are Christians. The caste system may be a thing of the past, but a “classist” mentality is not.

Bishop of Shamshabad, India
“If you come to Kerala, which is very much Christian, and if you speak about the caste of a man, you will be prosecuted. That equality sense is there, maybe because of the Christian presence. In other parts, all this is forbidden according to the Constitution. The mentality has not changed. The Constitution cannot convert people. I don't want to say there is still a caste system in India. Theoretically, no, but its influence continues to prevail in our country.”

In October, the Indian bishops had their ad limina visit in Rome. The pope assured them he hopes to one day visit India.

Bishop of Shamshabad, India
“We are excited: our people, our nation, the Hindus, the Muslims. Our people are waiting to see the Holy Father face-to-face, to hear the Holy Father speaking to us.”

Msgr. Thattil remembers this moment as a familiar encounter in which Pope Francis had an open and sincere dialogue with them. A papal visit to India would be a huge sign of hope for the small Christian population, which accounts for a little over two percent of the country's predominantly Hindu population, of 1.34 billion people.

Ángeles Conde.
Translation: Claudia Torres