Jesus and Freedom in the context of India
As we celebrate the feast of our Blessed Mother, remember that her Assumption is a call to freedom for all the women of India who are enslaved by unhealthy cultural values and naive religious beliefs.
By Bishop Ignatius D'Souza, Bishop of Bareilly
August is a significant month for the Church as well as for India. As the Church celebrates the Assumption of our Blessed Mother, it is time to commemorate the fulfilment of the promise made by Jesus to all his faithful servants and redeeming power of faith. The feast gives out the message that our women need to rise above all that shackles and enslaves them.
As we observe the Independence Day, we are honouring values and traditions that strengthen our social fabric. We announce to the world that united efforts of all the sections of the people can take a nation to the most desired destination of freedom.
For us Christians we can find our true freedom only in Jesus Christ. The Lord announces in Luke 4 that God the Father has sent him “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.......”. Both are important for freedom – liberation from captivity and recovery of sight; in fact, both are interconnected. If we want liberation, we must have a good sight to see all the forces that enslave us. This is a simple truth theologically and sociologically.
Mahatma Gandhi, Mahatma Phule or Jawaharlal Nehru had that rare sight to recognize the captivity India was going through. It was not merely a captivity enforced by the colonial powers but a captivity that goes beyond that. And that is why Mahatma Gandhi said: “We are our own slaves, not of the British. This should be engraved on our minds.”
We must ponder over these words of the Father of our Nation and see how we are ensnared and entangled in so many forces that make us less free or not free at all. The founders of India gave us a vision that must lead us to true liberation and substantial freedom. They insisted that our nation must be rooted in secularism, justice, equality, human dignity and human rights.
As we hoist our tricolour on August 15, we must ask ourselves whether we have lost these values since the midnight stroke in 1947: “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” In the same Tryst with Destiny speech Jawaharlal Nehru says: “Freedom and power bring responsibility.”
Have we fulfilled that responsibility with diligence? Have we used the power given to us by the people for their empowerment or have we used it to weaken them?
Church in India has been empowering people especially the marginalized ones through imparting education, by providing medical service and by bringing social reforms through various activities in spite of so many hurdles it faces to bring about an experience of Christian freedom especially to the oppressed and the exploited. But even to do this the Church needs certain freedom as guaranteed by our Constitution.
As we celebrate the feast of our Blessed Mother, remember that her Assumption is a call to freedom for all the women of India who are enslaved by unhealthy cultural values and naive religious beliefs. If Mary sang the most powerful song of freedom the Magnificat, the Church as a body has to make all the women of India sing the same song of freedom.
To make this possible first of all it must raise its voice against dowry system and the rampant female infanticide. If women are done away with in the womb itself, freedom does not mean anything for them; after all, they have to be, in order to be free.
Church’s educational institutions and curriculum need to become a powerful voice against the values and forces that make our sisters to live in perennial captivity. That is the essence of Declaration on Christian Education in the Vatican II that takes into account the dignity of every human person.
When human dignity becomes the centre of India’s statecraft, this nation will have true freedom rooted in Christian and Biblical vision and it will be a freedom beyond the clouds that Jawaharlal Nehru spoke of in his first freedom speech:“We rejoice in that freedom, even though clouds surround us, and many of our people are sorrow-stricken and difficult problems encompass us.”
I wish you all, a very happy Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven and happy Independence Day. May Mary’s protection and blessings be on our country.
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