FILIPE NERI WARNS: CONSTITUTION IN DANGER

Filipe Neri Ferrão, Archbishop of Goa and Daman, followed in the footsteps of the Archbishop of Delhi, saying the Constitution was in danger and most people were living in insecurity. The BJP on Tuesday retaliated, saying it was a “political appeal” by a religious head which marked a “new dangerous trend”. Goan Observer is reproducing the full text of the final section of the Archbishop’s letter

IV. THE SOCIAL MISSION OF THE CHURCHIV. THE SOCIAL MISSION OF THE CHURCH
1. The Situation of Poverty in India
Extreme Poverty. In India, around 22% of the population live in extreme hunger: this has become the usual scene. Among the poor, the conditions in which children live are more precarious. According to the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index, 30% of the global population of children living in poverty reside in India. While India is struck by extreme poverty, 73% of our country’s resources are controlled by 10% of the population. The existing extreme poverty is therefore the result of the rampant social injustice prevailing in the country.In this context, Caritas-India, through its various projects, is doing a commendable work in helping eradicate poverty in our country.Trampling of Human Rights. People are being uprooted from their land and homes in the name of development. Pope Francis says that “the first victim of development is the poor person.” It is easier to trample upon the rights of the poor, because those who will raise their voice for them are very few. In recent times we see a new trend emerging in our country, which demands uniformity in what and how we eat, dress, live and even worship: a kind of mono-culturalism. Human rights are under attack and democracy appears to be in peril. The various minorities fear for their safety. In short, respect for law is frankly on the decline in this country.Danger to our Constitution. At the time of elections, the candidates confuse the minds of many people by making false promises. And the people, on their part, often sell their precious vote for selfish, petty gain. Today, our Constitution is in danger, reason why most of the people live in insecurity. Having this concern in mind, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has recently declared in its Plenary Assembly that the Church in India should diligently promote and stand by values like secularism, freedom of speech and freedom to practise one’s religion enshrined in the Indian Constitution. In this context, particularly as the General Elections are fast approaching, we must strive to know our Constitution better and work harder to protect it (cf. CBCI XXXIII General Body Meeting Final Statement 2018).
2. The Situation of Poverty in Goa
Experts define a poor person as one who, in some way or the other, experiences a lack of something. This insufficiency could be related to money, emotions or social acceptance. A person who has plenty of money may not be necessarily a rich person, as the same may be isolated by the society, while a person with little money may be magnanimous and rich in positive emotions. In this perspective, each one of us is poor in some way or the other. In Goa too we observe various types of poor people. In the reflection that follows we shall restrict ourselves to three types of poverty.Economic Poverty. The general outlook of the socio-economic situation in Goa could easily lead one to think that there are few poor people in this state. We may indeed be better off than some other states in our country, as far as the index of hunger or poverty is concerned; nonetheless quite a few people in Goa do experience insufficiency of basic amenities and struggle to earn their daily bread. A good many children and youth cannot pursue their higher studies due to the financial constraints of their families. A lot of people cannot even avail themselves of various medical options, because of lack of finance. There are many who live under tremendous stress for they do not have a roof they can call their own. A good number of Goans have hit rock-bottom in their business, others are trapped in debts and some others have even committed suicide on account of their extreme personal circumstances.Emotional Poverty. Man is not an island; he lives and grows among others and, together with others, he confronts social problems. Unfortunately, quite a few have difficulty in adjusting or living with others; they live lonely lives, in isolation from the rest. There are those who are born in economically poor families and, being reluctant to interact freely with others, live their whole life with an inferiority complex. There are still others who, due to their emotional problems, feel unaccepted by society and have even fallen prey to mental illness. Children who have been raped or abused oftentimes have to live with that trauma for the rest of their life. Many victims of emotional humiliation become victims of domestic violence and ostracism. Sadly, this type of poverty is on the rise in our society.Ostracism. Those who do not have shelter, food or clothing often face social ostracism. This kind of poverty is not alien to our society and it has different faces. Society considers the illiterate as ignorant and the aged and the sick as discardable. Those suffering from terminal illness often carry their cross in loneliness. There is a growing thinking that the physically and the mentally handicapped bring down our economy. Migrants, people dwelling in huts and living on the streets are ostracized and treated with harsh words. Again, due to caste discrimination, some people live their entire life in humiliation.Quite a number of children and widows suffer indignity. Those who are unemployed and those who have returned after quitting their jobs in other cities and countries and have no jobs at hand are undergoing a lot of stress. There are many domestic workers who silently bear injustices done to them for fear of losing their job. Those who are in prison and, sadly, also their entire families are tagged with the label of being criminals, a stigma that they often have to carry for the rest of their lives. In the same way, the families of those who have become victims of alcohol and drug addiction are subjected to lasting social discrimination. There will be others who are victims of various types of poverty. To reach out to such ostracized people will be our big challenge, particularly during this Pastoral Year.
3. Eradication of Poverty: Our Measures and Programmes
Since poverty has different forms, we need to employ different ways and means to deal with it. By feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty and sheltering the homeless we cannot say we are fully done with our social responsibilities. Questions like — ‘why are they poor?’ ‘who has led them to this situation?’ ‘why do they remain there?’ — need to be asked. Else, our social work will be incomplete and the poor will continue to remain where they are for the rest of their life.The various Diocesan Bodies of the Church in Goa should make provisions for the care of the needy and the poor in their annual budgets. It is my great desire that they should seriously apply their mind to this and, after due deliberation, take up concrete initiatives in this direction. I earnestly request that, during this Pastoral Year, all our diocesan bodies should identify people in need and find out ways and means to reach out to them.Those of our diocesan bodies that work primarily for the transformation of the society, like Caritas-Goa, the Council for Social Justice and Peace as well as the Centre for Responsible Tourism, should in the first place see in what ways they can be of even more effective assistance to those who are in need. They would do well to organize regular programmes to conscientize people concerning their social responsibility. I call upon the Clergy, the Religious and the Laity to understand and live out more meaningfully the social dimension of our faith. The support that we as a Church have been extending to people in solving their problems and protecting their rights must continue with increased vigour.An important sector of humanity in need that we must attend to is the youth. We ought to show our concern for them and accompany them as they look for employment or for setting up their own business endeavours. We shall in this way not only help eradicate poverty, but also help create new employment avenues.We cannot fail to acknowledge the presence of various Congregations of Men and Women Religious who render yeoman service to the poor in our Archdiocese. We sincerely thank God for them, as our heart delights in watching them serve the least of our brethren with love, concern and selflessness. Among the Laity, the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul go out to personally visit the poor, taking part in their loneliness and pain and helping them materially too. Besides, many lay people, on their own or in groups, try to help the poor and bring them out of their misery. All these are indeed living blessings from God!
4. Social Mission in our Parishes
Beginning this Pastoral Year, we need to create viable structures in favour of the poor and the underprivileged. Although we feel glad on account of the service that we have been rendering to the poor, we need to look for more ways of helping them effectively. In this regard, I make an earnest appeal to every Parish Pastoral Council and parish unit of our diocesan apostolates to reflect on this issue seriously and take concrete initiatives to alleviate human suffering around them.It is also my fervent request that every parish should establish a Fund for the Poor and that, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, all should make efforts to reach out to the needs of the poor.The leaders of our Community Animation Teams (CATs) should take it as their responsibility not only to draw the attention of the faithful to the life-situation and the needs of the poor members of our Small Christian Communities, but also to reach out to them. The transformation of the society should be a special concern of the Small Christian Communities. I strongly urge those concerned to revisit the guiding principles of the Parish Social Apostolate Fora and continue the work on social transformation with renewed vigour. Many of our lay faithful are engaged in fighting poverty, in different ways. Let us work enthusiastically to support and motivate them.

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