ACN News: Friday, 22nd July 2011 – INDIA
Discovering Christ in India
By John Pontifex
A MOVEMENT of people in India who follow Christ – but are not baptised – could number as many as 50,000, according to clergy who work closely with them.
Priests based in the Hindu spiritual capital of Varanasi (Benares), in northern India, reported that Khrist Bhaktas– literally meaning ‘Devotees of Christ’ – have grown both in number and faith commitment.
In interviews with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, clergy said they needed to expand and develop support for a community, many of whom feel unable to receive baptism as yet.
Fr Paul D’Souza, director of Nav Sadanha, a Catholic pastoral centre in Varanasi, explained that the Khrist Bhaktas retain much of the dominant Hindu culture of the region, expressing their devotion to Christ in styles of prayer and worship typical of the area.
Fr D’Souza said the Khrist Bhakta movement had grown thanks to the Church’s continued sensitivity towards the faithful’s culture, for example the practice of gathering in Christian Ashrams – spiritual and cultural centres set up for them to pray and learn about Christ and the Church.
Fr D’Souza said: “The number of Khrist Bhaktas is increasing. They are very strong in their faith.
“At the moment we are not baptising many of them but some have asked for baptism.”
(Fr Paul D’Souza, director of Nav Sadanha)
According to reports from the region received by ACN, Khrist Bhaktas are often required to practise their faith in secret for fear of backlash from people opposed to perceived Christian evangelisation in what is seen as the Hindu heartland.
Clergy and other Church leaders working with Khrist Bhaktas have stressed that they do not proselytise and only respond to those actively seeking to become involved in the movement.
According to reports from AsiaNews and other Christian news agencies, thousands of people attend Sunday Satsangs (prayer meetings) at some of the ashrams.
Fr D’Souza described plans for a new ashram proposed to keep pace with demand.
Some reports say there could be at least 50 Catholic ashrams, perhaps with a similar number of Protestant ones.
Fr D’Souza said people were attracted to the Khrist Bhakta movement partly because of its community-style of worship, which he said was unlike traditional Hinduism where prayer is private and individual.
Other reports have indicated that people want to escape the rigid caste system prevalent in the region which, particularly in rural areas, is reported to be oppressive.
Aid to the Church in Need has provided long-standing help for Fr D’Souza’s Nav Sadhana Pastoral Centre, which provides Christian education courses, spiritual retreats, formation for Sisters and laity, Christian media and other communications training as well as music, mime and dance in styles native to the region.
Explaining that every year up to 5,000 people use Nav Sadhana, Fr D’Souza said: “Our work here in Nav Sadhana is very challenging but it is very much needed. People come to the centre from very far away and they go on from here to serve all over north India.
“The benefactors help us to continue what we are doing. They can be satisfied that thanks to their generosity we are able to do so much.”
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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