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Monday, November 17, 2003


VATICAN CITY, NOV 17, 2003 (VIS) - This morning John Paul II received bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of Madras-Maylapore, Madurai and Pondicherry-Cuddalore at the end of a series of 'ad limina' visits made by bishops from India. In his speech, the Holy Father underscored the importance of a 'true spirit of solidarity in the Church and in society.'

'Like so many places in the world,' said the Pope, 'India is beset by numerous social problems. In some ways, these challenges are exacerbated because of the unjust system of caste division which denies the human dignity of entire groups of people. In this regard, I repeat what I said during my first pastoral visit to your country: 'Ignorance and prejudice must be replaced by tolerance and understanding. Indifference and class struggle must be turned into brotherhood and committed service. Discrimination based on race, color, creed, sex or ethnic origin must be rejected as totally incompatible with human dignity'.'

Afterward, John Paul II praised the many initiatives implemented by the Bishops' Conference and individual Churches 'to fight this injustice' and encouraged the bishops to 'continue to make certain that special attention is given to those belonging to the lowest casts. ' Any semblance of a caste-based prejudice in relations between Christians is a countersign to authentic human solidarity ' and a serious hindrance to the Church's mission of evangelization. Therefore, customs or traditions that perpetuate or reinforce cast division should be sensitively reformed so that they may become an expression of the solidarity reformed.'

The Holy Father then went on to speak about the new evangelization, emphasizing that it is of 'special importance in modern societies, in which large portions of the population find themselves in desperate situations often leading them to seek quick and easy solutions to complicated problems. This sense of hopelessness may explain, in part, why so many people ' are attracted by fundamentalist sects offering short-lived emotional fervor and an assurance of wealth and worldly achievement.'

'Our response to this must be one of 're-evangelization',' he continued, ' ' to show people the emptiness of such promises, while convincing them that Christ and his Body share their sufferings.' Referring specifically to the clergy, the Holy Father said that 'as men of faith, priests must not let the temptation of power or material gain distract them from their vocations, nor can they permit ethnic or cast difference to detract from their fundamental charge to spread the Gospel. ' Bishops are to love and respect their priests. Likewise, priests should love and honor their Bishops. ' Personal differences or accidents of birth must never under undermine this essential role.'

At the end, John Paul II recalled that 'a firm commitment to mutual support ensures our unity in mission which is founded on Christ himself and enables us to approach all cultures, all ideological concepts, all people of good will. ' The Church also urges the faithful to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions. ' The Catholic Church in India has consistently promoted the dignity of every person and fostered the corresponding right of all peoples to religious freedom. Her encouragement of tolerance and respect of other religions is demonstrated by the many programs of inter-religious exchange which you have developed on both national and local levels. I encourage you to continue these frank and helpful discussions with those of other religions. Such discussions will help us to cultivate this mutual search for truth, harmony and peace.'

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