Udupi is the 166th diocese in India and 14th in Karnataka, erected by Pope Benedict XVI on 16 July, 2012. Udupi enjoys a mixing of cultures and traditions. The temple city of Udupi, famous for the Hindu ‘Ashta Mutts’ (8 Temples), is marked for the mutual respect prevalent among the various religions.
The diocese is blessed with the deep-rooted faith of the people, committed team of priests, dedicated men and women religious and lay-leaders. The parishes are generally compact, sufficiently close to each other and accessible. The laity are friendly, cooperative and receptive, living harmoniously with the other religions. There is ample opportunity for inter-religious dialogue, goodwill visits to the worship centres of other religions and common celebrations with them. We attempt such initiatives which are well-appreciated.
Pastoral vision and
challenges on hand?
‘A Christ-centered community filled with the love of God at the service of all’ is our pastoral vision. We must reach out to all the needy, irrespective of religion, caste or creed.
The 2½ year old ‘baby’ diocese needs to establish itself on a strong foundation. There is the challenge of setting up the basic infra-structure for the various pastoral ventures. Facilities for higher education are urgent in order to improve the economic condition of our people. Women, children and weaker sections of the society need to be strengthened.
You show courage and creativity in choosing laity, especially women to key roles in the diocese?
Within the canonical provision of the Church, the gates have been opened for the inclusion of lay men and women in the administration. This aspect was given great attention, while constituting the Parish Pastoral Council and the Finance Committee in our diocese. Apart from Finance Officer, two important commissions are handled by women. The lay faithful were urged and motivated to participate in the recently held ‘Gram Panchayat Elections’ in Karnataka. 225 catholic candidates stood for the election in Udupi diocese – men – 92, women- 133. Of these 105 candidates have won the election: men-38, women-67. This is really remarkable. We believe, this will open a new era in the empowerment of laity in Udupi diocese.
The diocese has a Commission for Women with their own President, and a religious Sister as full-time coordinator. Women are well-organized in the diocese. In all the 50 parishes of the diocese, there are women- organizations, with a definite time-bound action plan.
Awareness is being created on areas like education, self-reliance, women’s rights, gender equality etc. Women Self-Help Groups and Federations have been formed and are functioning at various levels.
Influence of the ‘Francis style’ on you and your flock?
We have a great spiritual leader in Pope Francis. He is unique in his simple, spontaneous and down-to-earth teachings. He vibes very well with all sections of people and never loses an opportunity to communicate with people. He has changed the face of the Catholic Church in a short span of time, and has proved himself to be the conscience of mankind. As such, he is a great inspiration to me and to all Christian Faithful. Imitating Jesus, the Good Shepherd, he first shows through his own life what he intends to preach to others. The people truly love the Pope and readily adhere to his teachings. His teaching on the responsibility of pastors is forthright and encouraging.
Your initiatives for inter-religious dialogue?
There is peace and harmony among the people of various religions. Since the local member of the legislative assembly belongs to a secular party, we do not face any undesirable situation at the moment. However, emboldened by the BJP rule in the centre, certain leaders make provocative statements against minority communities. A gradual attempt to saffronize education and restrict the rights of minorities not only felt but also visible.
The Christian community has the credential of being peace-loving and promoting harmony in the society. Feasts like Christmas, Eid and Diwali are being celebrated interreligiously. Good will visits are paid to their prayer houses. Peace Committees have been formed at the parish level comprising persons belonging to all faiths. However, there hasn’t been any serious inter-religious dialogue with the representatives of other religions. Efforts are on, to realize this.
Initiatives to strengthen and walk with families?
We have held a two-day ‘Pastoral Consultation’ of all the stakeholders on ‘Family Life’. The Family Life Service Centre of the diocese is working hard to put these resolutions into practice with a definite vision and mission, goals and objectives. Various programs like ‘remote’, ‘proximate’ and ‘immediate’ preparation for family life are regularly conducted for teenagers, youth and engaged couples respectively. Marriage Enrichment Programs for married couples are organized periodically in the parishes in order to revitalize family life. ‘Couples for Christ’ Movement has been initiated in many parishes of the diocese.
A Family Counselling Centre is functioning in the Bishop’s House. In order to guide young men and women, in search of suitable life-partners, a ‘Marriage Bureau’ has also been started.
Major problems families face in your area?
Owing to incompatibility, egoism and other reasons some families are short of peace and harmony. At times, this leads up to the Diocesan Tribunal. Increased level of education, affluence, wrong notions of personal fulfilment and individualism seem to be major causes. The situation of one of the spouses in many a family working abroad is an added reason. This affects family life, especially the healthy growth of children. The girls, who are highly qualified, are reluctant to marry boys who are not equally qualified or competent. This leads them to seek alliance among other religions. The diocese has projected graduation as the minimum qualification for every Catholic. The growing number of senior citizens also is a matter of concern.
Most urgent pastoral task of the Church in India?
In the pastoral context, strengthening the faith of our faithful is the need of the hour. Religious following should not be superficial. One should be convinced of the religion one has chosen to follow. It is shallow faith that gives away before challenges like ‘Ghar wapsi’. Church has to continue Jesus’ mission of empowering the weak and marginalized, along with education, health and social development programs.
Church in India today? Peaceful and harmonious living, with mutual respect for each other’s religion, is the need of the hour. Live and let live as members of one human and Indian/global family. Since the beginning of Christianity there was no time when it did not undergo persecution. So, the Church should be committed to Christ without any compromise. Make sure that no one takes for granted for being a minority. We are the citizens of a great Republic and share with our fellow-citizens its culture, rights and obligations. We must assert our Constitutional rights. The Church in India, as one body, must rise above petty differences and stand united when the fundamental rights of minorities are trampled upon.