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India’s Catholic Bishops are urging their faithful to exercise their sacred duty and right to vote in the upcoming general election “judiciously” for the good of the country by choosing leaders who listen to the people and respond effectively to their anxieties and needs. 

“As Pastors of our people, we Bishops consider it is our duty to address you …. so that joining hands with all people of good will, our community can effectively contribute to shaping the future of our nation,” writes Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay, in a Pastoral Letter issued on behalf of India’s Catholic bishops on March 14. 

Stressing that “all of us are truly proud of our country”, Card. Gracias, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) urges “every community to pray and to discern in prayer what is best” for the nation. 

With about 900 million Indian voters above 18 years of age, the April 11 to May 19 general election is being bitterly fought, with the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seeking another term.

The BJP came to power in the last general election in 2014 with Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.  The Indian National Congress, that has ruled the country for most of its history, was thoroughly voted out of power largely because of alleged corruption.  The party is seeking a comeback. 

In an interview, Card. Gracias explains to Vatican News that in the Pastoral Letter, India’s Catholic bishops are reminding Catholics of their duty to vote for the good of the country and for future generations.  The bishops are also urging the faithful to pray in order to be able to vote “judiciously”.

Attention to vulnerable groups
The CBCI Pastoral Letter expresses concern about some of the problems the nation is facing as it goes to the polls.  The widening gap between the rich and the poor is a worrisome issue and that attention needs to be given to the poor.

Card. Gracias says the nation needs an inclusive economy that provides the poor with opportunities to improve themselves, such as through employment, encouraging entrepreneurship and providing them education .

Another concern, the 74-year old cardinal expresses is a safe environment for the people, especially women and children.  With violence against women on the rise, he says, there is need to create a mentality which ensures the dignity of women. 

Another two vulnerable groups that need special attention, he continues, are the tribals or the indigenous people and the Dalits, those outside India’s rigid caste system who are regarded so low in social status that they were once considered untouchables. 

Given the fact that India is a multi-religious and multi-cultural society, the CBCI president says that the government must promote national integration involving the participation of all in nation-building.  The nation must be made to feel one family composed of different creeds, cultural backgrounds and ethnic groups. 

With climate change a big issue today, India's Church also urges that the government be sensitive to the issue of environment.

What type of leaders?
In the Pastoral Letter, the bishops also suggest that leaders of the country must listen to the people and respond to their needs.  The should be concerned about the poor, the marginalized and those at the peripheries of society. 

The bishops acknowledge governments have made efforts in this regard but perhaps efforts need to be redoubled to ensure that all make progress.  Everyone should be included in India’s progress.

At the very outset of the Pastoral Letter, Card. Gracias clarified that the “Catholic Church does not identify herself with or side with any political party” but, “as before every election we feel called to give some general guidance to our people for the good of our country.”