There are several strong misconceptions about the Christian presence in India. Some mistakenly think the faith only arrived in recent centuries. Others presume the Catholic Church is Latin only. And still others think the minority Christian presence in India (about 2 percent of more than 1.2 billion people) is fully dependent on the West to address its pastoral needs.
But having just returned from a pastoral visit to this beloved land, I celebrated the uplifting spirit of the church in India, especially its rich Eastern Catholic dimensions. I experienced the ancient spiritual heritage that began with the missionary activity of St. Thomas the Apostle, the rich liturgical customs of both the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches and — more than anything else — the dynamic missionary thrust of these Eastern churches in India, a spirit that reaches the world.
At every turn, Pope Francis is inviting and challenging us to be a missionary church. He wants each of us to accept the call of Baptism to continue Pentecost in our time. Well, the Eastern churches in India do this extremely well. In fact, they serve as dynamic examples of how to continue the tradition passed on to St. Thomas and the other apostles. Pentecost is alive!
We speak much about “new evangelization” in the West — and rightly so, as our missionary spirit seems to have dissipated in this part of the world. But the Eastern churches of India have been living this “new” evangelization for many years, since the arrival of St. Thomas in the year 52. Churches in the south of India, which have been blessed with a strong growth of the faith, now reach northward to the great yearning of peoples waiting to encounter Christ. Even in regions where laws forbid evangelization, the message of missionaries resonates; acts of charity for the poor in health care, education, community development and intercultural dialogue and understanding — works that reveal the face of Christ — these gently bring the good news of God’s love to all in mission lands, including our own country.
As you read about the Thomas Christians in this edition, I invite you to celebrate with them the privilege and blessing of our faith and offer some prayers of thanks for the missionary hearts of the Eastern churches in India. Let their example be a stimulus for us to be even more effective in our own new evangelization efforts.
God bless the church of India!