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posted Mar 19, 2019, 3:38 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Mar 19, 2019, 3:38 AM ]

Vote for Leaders who listen to people: Cardinal Gracias

Pastoral Letter to the Catholic Bishops of India (March 14, 2019)

Our country is in election mode. The dates for the General Elections have been announced. From April 11 - May 15, 2019, the country will be going through the gigantic process of elections to choose our Members of Parliament. Hundreds of millions will go to vote in the largest democracy in the world: we are more than Europe and Australia put together! We are truly proud of our country — the generally peaceful election process getting better each time, as each Government tries to make improvements: a smooth transition of office from one Government to the other. India can truly be a model for other countries to imitate and adapt to their circumstances.

As Pastors of our people, we Bishops consider it is our duty to address you through this Pastoral Letter, so that joining hands with all people of good will, our community can effectively contribute to shaping the future of our nation.

At the outset, we wish to make it clear that the Catholic Church does not identify herself with (or side) any political party. This is the stated policy of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, at this important moment, we feel called to give some general guidance to our people for the good of our country. Our country has made great progress because of science and technology. Infrastructure and public facilities have improved. At the same time, there are several areas of concern. The big gap between the rich and the poor seems to be widening. Many unorganised, informal, casual labourers are barely able to survive with what they earn. Farmers and those in the agricultural sector are under serious stress. Ethics is losing primacy as the guiding principle of society. India is a spiritual nation, and yet God is slowly being pushed to the periphery. It is in this context, and at this moment in history, that we are going into elections.

First of all, we remind ourselves of our duty to exercise our vote. Every citizen above 18 years has the right to vote, but this is also a sacred obligation we owe to our country. All our Parish Priests are urged to impress on our people this obligation. Every single vote does count. Hence, we owe it to ourselves, to our children and to our country to fulfil this sacred duty judiciously, and thus get involved in bettering the direction of our nation.

We are called not just to vote, but to vote judiciously, because the direction our country takes, its progress and much of our everyday lives depends largely on the leadership we elect to Parliament. The life of every citizen is affected by the Government, both at the Centre and in the State.

We see that Indian society is undergoing great transformation. Every government has contributed to the great progress that has been made over the years. India is gradually taking its rightful place in the comity of nations. There is indeed great hope for the future, and now is the time for us to get more involved in directing the destiny of our nation.

I urge every community to pray, and in prayer, to discern what is best for our country. The Catholic Church hopes that the General Elections will give us leaders who understand the anxieties of our people, their needs and respond effectively.

We need leaders in India who will:

1. Uphold the secular character of our nation and promote communal harmony through a spirit of inter-religious dialogue and understanding.
2. Care for the minorities and weaker sections of society, protect their rights, and work for their uplift.
3. Safeguard the rights of tribals over land, water and forests. Take particular care of Dalits all over the country, and ensure they are not discriminated against, granting equal rights to all Dalits.
4. Work for an economy that seeks in particular to help the poor and the underprivileged, protecting their dignity and enabling them to play their role in nation building.
5. Improve the climate and conditions in our country, ensuring a totally safe environment for all people, particularly women and children.
6. Climate Change

These are national issues. There would be other local and particular needs to be considered as well.

We urge our people to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and at home, so as to be able to discern what is best for the common good. All of us must pray ardently for a good government. God sent His Son that we may have life, and life in its fullness (John 10:10). With the Lord's strength and guided by the Spirit, we can all work unitedly for a better India. We lift our country to Mother Mary to always guide, protect and bring us abundant graces. God bless India!

+ Oswald Cardinal Gracias

President, Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI)