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Pope expected to highlight Indian Christians’ sufferings during Way of the Cross

By Gerard O’Connell, Special Correspondent in Rome
04/09/09 VATICAN/INDIA (UCAN) — The sufferings of Christians and the Catholic Church in India will be brought to the world’s attention this Good Friday when Pope Benedict XVI presides at the Way of the Cross at the Coliseum in Rome.

The Pope has invited Salesian Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati in northeastern India to write the reflections and prayers for this traditional Catholic devotion, which focuses on the passion and death of Jesus Christ.The ceremony will be broadcast worldwide by TV and Radio and other media.

When the Vatican broke the news mid-March, it noted how in recent years, “the Pope, in solidarity with the suffering Christians, has called on Church leaders from persecuted Churches to prepare the meditations and prayers to be used at the Good Friday devotion.”

It expected Archbishop Menamparampil to refer to “Christians who suffer persecution in India and in other countries, as well to the violence that destroys ethnic and religious groups, and to conflicts fuelled by economic interests.”

India is officially a secular state, and the vast majority of its more than 1 billion citizens are Hindus. Over the past few years, anti-Christian attacks have increased in the country. In the last quarter of 2008, Hindu extremists in the eastern state of Orissa killed more than 60 people and displaced about 50,000.

Archbishop Menamparampil, who heads the Catholic Church in the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, has worked all his priestly life in the troubled north-eastern region. There are many tensions in his state, and he has often engaged in peace mediation between tribal leaders, seeking to resolve ethnic clashes.

An Indian priest working at the Vatican, Father Theodore Mascarenhas, told UCA News in Rome, “The archbishop is a simple down-to-earth man, committed to dialogue and a great promoter of peace in the area, and especially in Assam which is hit by violent separatist movements.”

“Very often the state government has called upon him to be a mediator between warring groups and he has worked with great success,” said the priest, who is desk officer for Asia, Oceania and Africa at the Pontifical Council for Culture. “So all this would definitely be reflected in the comments and prayers he has written for the Way of the Cross.”

“He has actually composed the prayers sitting with youths in remote villages in Assam, by the light of lamps, because there is no electricity and he has actually reflected with the youths there while writing these thoughts,” the Vatican official revealed.

Speaking to Fides, a Vatican news agency, Archbishop Menamparampil revealed more.

He said that in writing his reflections, he sought to integrate Indian culture and Christian tradition, using concepts such as ahimsa, often translated as non-violence, which fully express the way in which Christ accepted and suffered his sufferings with serenity and strength of spirit.

He drew also on other aspects of Indian culture, linked to contemplation, silence, spiritual depth, self-denial, sacrifice as well as the concept of harmony, which expresses “co-existence amidst differences.”

This is the second consecutive year that the Pope has thrown the spotlight on Asia. Last year he asked Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong to write the reflections drawing inspiration from the sufferings and courageous witness of the Church in China.

This increasing focus on Asia could be the prelude to something more. UCA News has learned that Pope Benedict is considering making a pastoral visit to Asia next year.