Peace and Joy of Christ.
You may know that the Most Rev Bp Prasad Gallela, the Bishop of Kadapa diocese, was kidnapped at 11.00 am on 25th April while he was returning after saying mass in the Marian Shrine. He was blindfolded, and taken to an unknown place. As they were taking him, they pushed him down in between the seats and kicked him. Later he was brutally beaten; abuses and insults were heaped on him. He narrowly escaped being murdered. They dropped him back at 2.00 am. To add to this heinous crime, they videotaped his ordeal.
We appreciate the Police who acted very fast. In a couple of days, they were able to apprehend the culprits. To our shock and shame, it was planned by three priests who hired more than 10 gundas* to do the crime.
We held a solidarity rally and public meeting on 16th May in Kadapa, organised by the Citizens Forum for Justice, located in Hyderabad for which I happened to be the Adviser. The Most Rev Bp Prasada Rao, the CSI Bishop of Kadapa, was kind enough to give an introductory speech expressing solidarity with Bp Prasad Gallela and condemning the culprits. With his Prayer, we started the Rally.
About 1,500 people participated in the event. Except for 10 priests and 8 sisters, they were all lay people. They were mostly from Kadapa, but there were also people from Kurnool, Nellore, Khammam, Vijayawada and Guntur, as well as Dalit Christian leaders from Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad.
All the speakers pledged support and solidarity to Bp Prasad Gallela. They also affirmed solidarity and unity among us in the Catholic Church, saying that they will stand by justice and equality following our Lord Jesus. They condemned the three priests who, like Judas, betrayed Jesus and the Church. They are a shame to Catholic community.
Some questions too were asked and they need an answer.
When a nun was raped in Kolkata, there were protest meetings, candle light processions and, press statement in the national media. It was right to do so. A great injustice was done to the sister and the Church leadership responded appropriately in condemning the injustice and demanding severe punishment for the culprits. The Citizens Forum for Justice organised a candle light rally in Hyderabad. Priests and nuns came in big numbers along with others, including Muslims.
Now a bishop, the leader of a Diocese, has been kidnapped and brutally beaten, yet neither the Telugu Catholic Bishops’ Council (TCBC) nor the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), nor the national or regional Conference of Religious-India (CRI) have responded collectively. Is it because Bp Prasad Gallela belongs to the Dalit community and the three criminal priests belong to a dominant Reddy caste?
Are all the prayers, statements, promises and assurances of the hierarchy and Church leaders only words? Why is the Church leadership frightened or unwilling to act? Are they afraid of their caste communities; or do they not care about the Dalits even if they happen to be bishops?
The sad and criminal event has been published in the media. No significant response condemning the culprit priests or supporting Bp Prasad Gallela has appeared in the national media. You can very well imagine what people, especially Dalit Catholics, think and feel about the significant silence on the part of the official Church?
People who gathered for the solidarity rally, most of whom were Dalits, expressed their sense of hurt, frustration and anger at the inaction of the Church Leadership.
We know that there is caste discrimination in the Church, and that this is a great challenge to the Christian community in India. The question to ask then is, ‘If Jesus were to be here what he would have done?’
Your eminence, I know that you personally sympathise with Dalit Christians. We appreciate you for your stand. But when will the Church leadership collectively respond appropriately to the Caste Monster in the Church, which goes against the basic principle of our Lord Jesus – equality, justice and love?
I wish and request, and this is the yearning and desire of all Dalit Catholics, that you direct the CBCI, TCBC and CRI to come together and discuss concrete plans of action to respond to the caste menace within the Church and among bishops, priests and religious. This will in turn have positive effect on the laity.
It will be very beneficial to identify those bishops who are unwilling or unable to respond to the problems of the priests and the laity in their respective diocese, and transfer them to dioceses where they may comfortably exercise their call and divine vocation.
I am ready and many other Dalit Leaders are also willing to help in the process of bringing about action-oriented dialogue, so that we may be able to implement concrete actions at all levels within the Church, thus bearing witness to our Lord Jesus and build a community of love and justice.