Indian independence gives the Church no cause for alarm, rather the opposite. This was the main point to emerge from an exclusive interview with The Catholic Herald, given by Mgr. Thomas Pothacamury, Bis7lop of Bangalore and secretary to the Indian Bishops' Conference.
By a Staff Reporter
I saw Mgr. Pothacamury, who was on a visit to Europe, at Mill Hill Missionary College, and he discussed the attitude of Hindus and Moslems to Catholicism and the likely effects of a National Government on the work of the Church in India.
Bishop Thomas (as he is known throughout India) looked up from his typewriter. "I am leaving for Rome to-morrow he said with a smile, " and diocesan affairs demand much correspondence, but I am always happy to talk about India."
I began by asking about the extent of the opposition to Catholicism
in India. " During the past three years," the Bishop replied, " attacks on missionary activities and schools, principally in the Press, have been frequent. The chief reasons for this appear to be twofold. First comes the suspicion that Christianity is an instrument of foreign influence and a religion alien to the institutions and traditions of the country.
" It is true, of course," he added, " that Christianity has made the most remarkable progress under British rule. but it was never encouraged officially." Bishop Thomas went on to explain that, although the modern educated Hindu had little faith in his religion, he was proud of his ancient philosophy and spiritual heritage and was aware of the praise bestowed upon Hindu culture by western intellectuals ranging from Burke and Schopenhauer to Max Muller and H. G. Wells. Hence he resented conversion to Christianity by baptism.
" Secondly," the Bishop continued, " there is a considerable fear that the number of Christians will increase at the expense of the Hindu population with a consequent decrease in the political power of the latter, a power which has already been reduced in recent years by many conversions to Mohammedanism."
This fear of political rivalry was expressed recently when a Hindu lawyer suggested to Bishop Thomas that. if Christians were given a free hand, they would act like the Moslems and demand a " Christianstan."
THE INDIAN CHURCH
" Will the political independence of India reduce these grounds of suspicion?" I asked.
"I believe it will," replied the Bishop, " with the withdrawal of the British there will be no cause for our opponents to think that Christianity is allied to Western domination or a western type of civilisation. Also, the growing number of Indian bishops and priests will do much to remove this objection. Fifty years ago there was not a single
Indian bishop, now there are 19. Also, three-quarters of our 5,000 priests are Indian and 7,000 of our 10,500 nuns.
" Any misgivings on the score that we are seeking political privileges under the guise of religion were dispelled by the Memorandum presented to the Cabinet delegation last April by Catholic and Protestant leaders, in which the claim for separate representation was definitely renounced."
As to the future, while not minimising the difficulties facing the Church, the Bishop feels there is no cause for undue anxiety.
BISHOPS' CONFERENCE "The future of the Church depends on the inner strength and expanding power of Catholicism," he said, " and we must concentrate all our efforts on strengthening Catholic life and building up the Christian character of our youth."
To this end a Bishops' Conference was formed in 1944, with Standing and Working Committees and different sections to deal with questions affecting the rights and liberties of Catholics. (The Bishop of Bangalore, incidentally, was elected unanimously to the high office of Secretary to the Conference.) At the same time, a lay organisation, known as the Catholic Union of India. was formed to promote the manifold activities that come under the heading of Catholic Action. Associations have been established in many parts of the country which are affiliated to the central organisation. The President of the Union is a distinguished and scholarly layman, Mr. M. Ruthnaswamy, K.C.S.G.,
who is Vice-Chancellor of the Annamalai University. South India.
" Despite their political suspicions," Bishop Thomas continued, " many fair-minded Hindus have no objection to any specifically Christian teaching and. indeed, they are attracted by the personality of Our Lord. And Moslems. who believe in the spread of their faith and in religious education as we do, will certainly appreciate the peed for absolute liberty of conscience and the freedom to teach."
The Bishop pointed out that the Church had made wonderful progress during the stormiest period of India's political history. When the Hierarchy was established in 1868
there were only 1,600,000 Catholics and now they number 4,500,000.
" Are there likely to be any constitutional safeguards for the maintenance of the freedom which the Church has enjoyed in the past?" I asked.
" Yes," the • Bishop answered. " When the Constituent Assembly, to which four Catholics have been returned, meets soon, one of its first duties will be the formation of an Advisory Committee for the protection of minorities.