By: Vivek Shukla
As the Christmas is not far away and All Souls day was recently observed in India and other parts of the world by Christians, the efforts to bury the differences between Catholic and Protestants so that they can work for the society and the country with vigour is going on. That should be celebrated.
On All Souls Day, some priests of Catholic and Protestant church met at Rohtak in Haryana and discussed way forward to work in tandem as much as they can. To cement their ties with Catholic Church, the Delhi Brotherhood Society is organising series of Inter-faith and Inter community seminars and meeting to strengthen their ties with all the communities/religions across India.
Meanwhile, it should be mentioned here that All Souls Day is a day of prayer and remembrance for the faithful departed, observed Christians on 2nd November every year. Through prayer, intercessions, alms and visits to cemeteries, people commemorate the poor souls in purgatory and gain them indulgences.
It is high time that we should know as to what divides Catholics and Protestants? Well, they worship the same God and for both of them Bible is a holy book, but the principles of their faith are different. Catholicism and Protestantism are two denominations of Christianity, just like Shia and Sunni are sects of Islam. While the Pope is the head of the Catholic Church, Protestantism is a general term that refers to Christianity. While we have seen lot of bad blood between Catholics and Protestants in the past, things have never been so bad in India though they have separate churches.
“Surely, much of that animosity has melted away across the world, including in India. The thaw between Protestants and Catholics has been thing of the past,” feels Brother George Solomon, who is a Christian scholar and priest based in Delhi. And yet, theological differences between Protestants and Catholics are there. The battle between Catholics and Protestants is rooted in history. Degrees of reaction have ranged from friendly disagreements to difference of opinion on certain religious matters.
Protestants accuse Catholics of worshipping Mary, and Catholics think Protestants are apparently too dull to understand the distinctions Rome has made in this regard.
While outside India, many organisations were making efforts to bring the two Christian sects closer since centuries, the Delhi Brotherhood Society (DBS) has been doing yeoman service so that Catholics and Protestants bury their hatchet for the larger cause of society, country and humanity. DBS arose from the rich history of the Brotherhood of the Ascended Christ, with no less unique a story. It has established great institutions like St. Stephen’s College and St. Stephen’s Hospital and other such organisations across India. Since its formal establishment, it has continued in its quest to uplift the downtrodden and oppressed under these principles, and has expanded to neighbouring slums and beyond. Currently, it operates 19 projects for the betterment of society, and is involved in women’s empowerment, community development, education, abuse prevention, vocational training, scholarly work, interfaith dialogue, night shelters,
“In India both Protestants and Catholics were working together to provide relief and shelter to all those who were badly hit due to Tsunami and devastating floods in Kerala. So in way both have clearly shown to the world that they can and they would work for the needy when situation demands,” says noted scholar Joseph Gathia.
And if we talk about Christianity in India, it is said that it dates back to St. Thomas time. He was one of the twelve Disciples of Christ, who arrived in India around 52 AD. While the Christians have been here since centuries, their presence is known mostly through their service, and their contributions to society largely reflected in the communities and villages they dwelt in. They have chosen to live in a well-assimilated manner and most recorded history of their contributions start some four hundred years ago. With the stress and importance given to the social needs of education and health, it is not surprising to see the high literacy rates of states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which were part of the early areas of Christian growth.
And Christian missionaries were pioneers in education. The Santa Fe School in Goa, founded in 1540 by the Franciscans was the first formal Christian educational enterprise anywhere outside Europe. In 1542 it was taken over by St. Francis Xavier and in 1548 it was raised to the status of a college and renamed as St. Paul’s College. Soon more missionary schools appeared in other parts of India – at Bassein (1546), in Cochin (1549), at Punnaicayil in Tamil Nadu (1567), in Madurai (1595), in Pondicherry (1713), a High School in Tamil at Ellacurichi in Tamil Nadu (1731) and a Sanskrit School at Mannanam in Kerala (1846).
Christians were at the forefront in the freedom movement too. Those who look objectively at the history of the freedom struggle in India would admit that there were Christian missionaries who gave full support to the nationalist cause to the embarrassment and indignation of the British colonial government. Among these missionaries the more well known names are: Stanley Jones, C.F.Andrews, Sushil Kumar Rudra and C.F.Andrews was part of DBS.
Indian Christian Community played an influential role, especially in the early phase of the Indian National Congress.
The influence of Christians was impressive in the various sessions of the Indian National Congress. For example, in the third annual session of the Congress in 1887, out of 607 participants in the session, 15 were Indian Christians, and among those who addressed the assembly was Madhu Sudhan Das (1848-1934, popularly known as ‘Utkal Gourab’), a well-known leader from the Christian community in Orissa. The number and influence of Indian Christians continued to be impressive in the subsequent sessions of the Congress. Kali Charan Banerjee (1847-1907), a Bengali Christian and a fine orator, regularly addressed the annual sessions of the Congress in moulding the policy of National Movement. In the Congress session of 1889, among the ten women delegates, three were Christians: Pandita Ramabai Saraswati (1858-1922), Triumbuck, Nikambe. There are records of active Christian participation in the Swaraj Movement (1905), the Non Co-operation Movement (1920), the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930) and the ‘Quit India’ Movement (1942).
And cut to now. Surely when Catholic and Protestants would work together for the welfare of society and country, they would do wonders. (He is the author of Author Gandhi’s Delhi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)