The Archbishop of Delhi's Call for Prayer

NEW DELHI - Why has a letter by the Archbishop of Delhi to all the Parish priests and religious institutions in the Archdiocese of Delhi with the subject ‘Prayer for our nation’ created a firestorm in India?

The media suddenly is abuzz after several different voices across the political spectrum cry foul that the letter, by Archbishop Anil Cuoto, is meant to divide the nation on communal lines.

Notably, the right wing Hindu organization’s ideologue called it a "direct attack on secularism and democracy."

The letter led the Home Minister to issue at statement saying that India is a safe country where all minorities are safe and there’s no discrimination on the basis of religion or caste.

Political leaders from the ruling party, as well as the opposition, all had their say on the matter condemning it as a provocation and instigation of castes and communities.

On Twitter the bishop faced a strong backlash with the trending hashtag #ChurchTargetsModi. A strong wave of condemnation that sought to condemn the prayer call appeared on the micro-blogging site.

One TV news channel headlined the story saying: Church Targets Modi - Delhi Archbishop’s letter bomb explodes.

“What else will I talk about? We have to have a government that cares for freedom of people, the rights and welfare of the Christian community. I’m not meddling in partisan politics. We’re just praying that the nation should walk in the right direction.”
— Anil Cuoto, Archbishop of Delhi

Among the few political voices that supported Bishop Anil Cuoto was the Chief Minister of West Bengal, who stated that the Archbishop was correct in saying the secular fabric of the country was under threat due to the turbulent atmosphere in the country.

In his defense, the Archbishop said that the call for prayer had nothing to do with the Modi government and that he was just raising concerns as a citizen of India. He argued that as elections approach it is the norm to have special prayers in the churches.

He told the media: "What else will I talk about? Elections and government concern us. We have to have a government that cares for freedom of people, the rights and welfare of the Christian community. I'm not meddling in partisan politics. We're just praying that the nation should walk in the right direction."

Globally, minorities are seeing themselves persecuted with several communities being subjected to violence and being forced to flee their homeland. Some countries see other forms of persecution in the form of harassment, intimidation and violence. While the Rohingyas have been described as the most persecuted minority in the world, in the recent years India has been witness to persecution and communal tensions over religious faiths, practices and cultural differences.

According to the report by the Evangelic Fellowship of India, there has been a rise in crimes against Christians in the country, with the figures being 177 in 2015, 306 in 2016 and recording 381 in 2017.

In a report on a popular TV news channel, the head of the Catholic Church in India - Cardinal Oswald Gracias - said that the Bishop had no intention of creating a controversy. He said the letter isn't the church’s "official" stand since there are 173 diocese across the country and Delhi is just one of them. Cardinal Gracias went on to say that the church is and always has been 'apolitical' in India and that they were neither pro nor against any political party - they simply want good governance.

The cardinal said that there was an anxiety in the community and that the government needs to act promptly whenever there are incidences to give the clear message that it will not be tolerated.

It would seem that any ruling party wouldn’t like to hear that things are wrong and a concern at various fronts, especially with general elections just a year away. But the reactions that this letter stirred seem unwarranted, especially since no one was actually named by the Archbishop.