‘A true religion can’t be sectarian or divisive’

December 27, 2011 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Bishop ThomasPune, December 25, 2011: Bishop Thomas Dabre, who took over the reigns of the 125-year-old Pune Diocese two-and-a-half years ago, is an exponent of inter-religious dialogue. He completed his doctorate on ‘The God experience of Tukaram’ and taught at the city-based Jnana Deep Vidyapeeth for many years, till he was appointed as an auxiliary Bishop of Mumbai in 1990. As the head of the Pune Diocese, he symbolically leads various social service centres run by the Catholic Church in Pune, Satara, Solapur and Sangli districts, and Kolhapur city.  He spoke to Camil Parkhe about the need for communal harmony in the backdrop of Christmas.

What have been your priorities after taking over as Pune Bishop?

We feel that faith must flow into service and therefore, we have tried to increase our network of schools and colleges. Our diocese will soon open a new English school in Miraj and some new school buildings have also been planned. There are a sizeable number of educational institutions run by the Church in the city and district. The Church’s schools educate children belonging to all faiths; in fact, a majority of the students in our schools are non-Christians. We try to provide quality education and also imbibe moral and spiritual values among children. These schools also ensure that there is no discrimination among students. Society has indeed appreciated the role of the Church’s educational institutions.

How were you drawn to the issue of inter-faith dialogue and harmony?

My mother-tongue is Marathi and I was brought up in Vasai, in a locality that had a majority of non-Christian families. I was influenced by their lifestyle, social and religious traditions. I feel we should work towards communal harmony and peace, and it should be our top priority. Recently, the Diocese had invited a high-powered Vatican delegate to the city for a three-day inter-faith meet, attended by well-known representatives of Hinduism and other religions. Harmony among the people of various religions is required to ensure prevalence of equality, justice and peace in society. We believe that the unity and integrity of our nation depends on inter-religious and communal harmony. All our achievements and fruits of prosperity will be  reduced to ashes if there is no communal peace.

As a priest, I feel that Jesus Christ is not for Christians alone; he wants to work for the benefit of all religious communities. That is why all our educational, social, medical and charitable activities are open to members of all religions. A true religion cannot be sectarian and divisive; it is universal and that is why we have to be very serious about inter-religious harmony.

What is the role of the Indian Catholic Church in the world church?

The Indian Catholic Church is playing a significant role in the universal Catholic Church. Many Indian clergymen and nuns occupy vital positions in the church hierarchy and some of them even hold the highest posts, like the superior general or mother general of their respective religious congregations. For example, Fr Sebastian Vazhakala, the father general and co-founder along with Mother Teresa, of the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative Brothers, is based at the organisation’s headquarters in Rome. There are many Indian priests and nuns working in the USA, Europe and other parts of the world. In the past, India used to receive a large number of missionaries from European countries and now there is a reverse trend as Indian priests and nuns belonging to various congregations are called to serve in different parts of the world.

Tell us something about your recent meeting with Pope Benedict XVI?

It is mandatory  for all Catholic Bishops to meet the Pope individually and in groups once in five years. It is called an ad limina visit. There are 175 Bishops in India and the group-wise visits to the Vatican were arranged this year. I was among a group of 35 Bishops who met Pope Benedict XVI in September. The pontiff addressed us in a group and later also met us individually. During the individual  meeting, we present a report on various activities of our respective Diocese to the Pope, who is the the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church. Thus, the ad limina visit helps the Pope to meet each and every head of the Diocese in any corner of the world and know their issues and problems. Our meeting with the Pope – group and individual sessions – lasted nearly two hours. The Pope has appreciated the Indian Church’s work, especially in the field of education. This was my first interaction with Pope Benedict since he took over the reigns in April 2005, although I had two ad limina sessions with Pope John II .

What are your impressions of the two pontiffs?

I found Pope John Paul II a very contemplative person. In his later years, he liked to listen to the views of those he was meeting and spoke little. Pope Benedict is scholarly and very articulate in expressing his views. With a long administrative experience as a Vatican official, he knows the issues of the churches all over the world.

– camil parkhe, sakal times

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