Symposium on Social Teaching of the Church:

Use Church’s social teachings to build justice, say speakers

MUMBAI, India (UCAN) — A symposium on the Catholic Church’s social doctrines has stressed Indian Catholics’ role in working for a just and peaceful society based on Church teaching.

India is a country of “great opulence” and “dehumanizing poverty” with millions living “on the fringes of existence,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay told symposium participants during the March 13-15 meeting.

Referring to Catholic social teaching compiled in the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” he said the Church in India “has shown her concern for human life in society through various development works, numerous social institutions, schools and hospitals.”

The compendium was published in 2004 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

The cardinal urged participants to “expand their hearts to meet the needs of the poor” and take steps to fight poverty” in attempts to “build a civilization of peace.”

The Theological and Doctrinal commission of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India organized the symposium in Mumbai. It discussed the “Church’s Social Doctrine Promoting A Civilization Of Peace: Commitment To The Common Good In A World of Economic, Political And Social Conflicts.”

About 600 people including 12 bishops, 90 priests and some 150 nuns from 58 dioceses attended the program. Speakers said the Church’s social doctrines can be used as an instrument to build up a civilization of peace.

Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in his paper, said newspapers routinely report about social, economic and political troubles.

“There has been so much of bad news” from India with anti-Christian violence continuing “to plague the lives of so many people in various areas of the country,” said the cardinal’s paper, which was read out as he did not attend the program.

“The solutions to many of these troubles come directly from the Gospel message given to us by our Lord Jesus. One of the ways by which this message comes to us is through the social doctrine of the Church,” Cardinal Martino said.

Cardinal Gracias, in his presentation, spoke of how discriminatory and inhuman treatment of over 165 million dalit people in India has been justified on the basis of caste, an issue which the Church here needs to address.

About 60 percent of the 2.3 million Indian Christians come from dalit groups. Dalit, literally meaning “trampled upon” or “broken open,” denotes the former untouchables at the bottom of the Indian caste system.

Cardinal Gracias, president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India based in Mumbai, said the “Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Church” asserts “radical equality and brotherhood among all people, regardless of their race, nation, sex, origin, culture or class.”

The Church also works to eliminate exploitation of women and gender discrimination, he said. On sexual exploitation of women and children, the prelate noted that human trafficking is reportedly the third most profitable crime worldwide, after drugs and arms dealing. “We need to make every effort to ensure that women regain full respect” in terms of their dignity, he stressed.

Church teachings also urge Catholics to protect families, fight poverty and care for the elderly, he added.

The cardinal stressed that “our commitment to a culture of life and a civilization of peace can be evaluated by our attitude and response to these poorer and weaker human beings.”

The 2001 Indian census showed that 12.5 million children aged 5-14 years were child laborers then, he said. Many of them, including girls, were engaged in hazardous occupations despite a law prohibiting the employment of children.

“This is the sign that the values of the Gospel have not yet percolated far enough to destroy that ruthless combination of poverty and selfishness that makes child labor possible. This is surely the task at hand for the Indian Church,” the cardinal emphasized.

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