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Archbishop Welby’s India trip to be ‘pastoral, not political’

31 July 2019


A newly arrived white tiger walks inside its enclosure at the Alipore Zoological Garden, in Kolkata, India. The headcount of tigers registered in India in recent years has increased from 2226 in 2014, to 2967 in 2018, the latest data shows. In 2010, India set a target of doubling their numbers by 2022

A newly arrived white tiger walks inside its enclosure at the Alipore Zoological Garden, in Kolkata, India. The headcount of tigers registered in Indi...

THE Archbishop of Canterbury will give a “full and very transparent account of what happened” when he becomes the first C of E Primate to visit the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, in India, his interfaith adviser said this week.

After a trip to Sri Lanka to show solidarity with the Christian community in the wake of the Easter bombings, the Archbishop will begin a ten-day trip to India on 31 August, travelling to seven cities and towns in the Church of North India and the Church of South India.

At a briefing for journalists on Tuesday, his interfaith adviser, the Revd Dr Richard Sudworth, emphasised that the visit was pastoral rather than political, after being questioned about whether the Archbishop would be challenging the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, on the status of minorities (News, 16 January 2015).

“The Archbishop will be going to listen and learn what the situation is,” he said. “There seems to be a very varied picture, and what we are encouraged by here is that the Indian constitution does give freedom of religion and belief, and that is something we will be hoping to affirm and hear about as we travel around.”

In his recent report on the persecution of Christians (News, 12 July), commissioned by the then Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, warned of a “growing narrative in India that to be Indian is to be Hindu”, which had led to “mob violence” that had become a “regular occurrence” in some states, including Telangana and Madhya Pradesh — two stops on the Archbishop’s tour.

He cited beatings, forced conversion from Christianity to Hinduism, sexual violence against women, and murder. Persecution had “risen sharply” since the rise to power of Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party party, which was “right-wing Hindu nationalist”.

After Mr Modi’s landslide victory in May, the Bishop of North-East India, the Rt Revd Michael Herenz, in the Church of North India, said that the Church was engaged in “a struggle for survival” (News, 31 May).

There are no plans for Archbishop Welby to meet Mr Modi. If he had the opportunity, there would “things he want want to share”, Dr Sudworth said. “What we do not want to be doing . . . is the idea that we lecture another country on this.” India was “a huge country with very varied experiences among minority groups in different areas”. The Archbishop was “not a politician”, but would raise concerns “appropriately but with a listening and humble ear”.

The tour will take in Kottayam, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Medak, Jabalpur, Kolkata, and Amritsar, and will entail meeting religious leaders and visiting social projects run by the Church.

LAMBETH PALACEArchbishop Welby hosts a group of Indian heritage Christians from across the UK at Lambeth Palace for a eucharist and lunch, last month

In May, on the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, in which hundreds of Indians attending a public meeting were shot dead by British troops, the Archbishop posted a message on Twitter: “As British people we cannot avoid this shameful part of our colonial legacy. As a Christian leader, today is a day for reflection; a day for lament; and a day to pray for the healing power of forgiveness that communities of faith, around the world, might learn from the past and move to a future where all are able to flourish.”

Asked whether the Archbishop would be issuing an apology when he visited the site in Amritsar, given that the man who gave the order to the troops was an Anglican, Dr Sudworth said: “I expect a fulsome and very transparent account of what happened.” It was “a moment of recognising some of the sins of our history”.

Christians make up about 2.5 per cent of India’s population. Many are members of the Dalit caste. The Moderator of the Good Shepherd Church of India, the Rt Revd Joseph d’Souza, who is President of the Dignity Freedom Network (formerly the Dalit Freedom Network), has said that the caste system still “poisons all of society”, and permeates the Church, too (News, 17 August 2018).

“It is very difficult to conceive of the ministry of the Churches of South and North India without thinking about the link with this identity as Dalits,” the Archbishop’s ecumenical adviser, the Revd Dr Will Adam, said on Tuesday. “It’s been the warp and weft of the ministry of the Churches for many, many years.”

Beginning the trip in Kerala was an opportunity to note that Christianity had been “alive and well for many centuries, certainly before the arrival of European missionaries,” he said (Features, 9 March 2018).

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