Indian Catholicism Print
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 12 May 2008 14:54
Fascinating piece by John Allen on Catholicism in India:

Some background on Catholicism in India.

Though Catholics represent only 1.6 percent of the population, India is so big that this works out to a sizeable Catholic community of 17.6 million. The Church is divided into three rites: Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara, and the Latin rite. The Syro-Malabar rite has an estimated four million adherents, the Syro-Malankara about 500,000, and the rest belong to the Latin Rite.

In many ways, Indian Catholicism is thriving. The Church is growing at a rate ahead of overall population growth, and by 2050 there could be almost 30 million Catholics, which would place India among the twenty largest Catholic nations on earth, roughly on a par with Germany in terms of its Catholic population. Outside its traditional base in the south, Catholicism is also expanding in the northeast. In the state of Arunachal Pradesh on the eastern border with China, where Catholicism arrived barely 25 years ago, there are today 180,000 Catholics out of a total population of 800,000.

A noteworthy point about Catholic demography in India is the disproportionate share of Dalits, or untouchables. Estimates are that somewhere between 60 and 75 percent of Indian Catholics are Dalits, who often see Christianity as a means of protesting the caste system and of affiliating with a social network to buffer its effects.

Catholicism enjoys wide respect across India for its network of schools, hospitals and social service centers. When Mother Teresa died in 1997, the Indian government afforded her a state funeral, only the second private citizen after Mahatmas Gandhi to receive the honor. Her casket was born by the same military carriage which carried Gandhi’s remains in 1948.

Yet the Catholic community in India also faces steep challenges, among them the rise of aggressive Hindu nationalism. Radical Hindu movements often claim that Christians engage in duplicitous missionary practices in an effort to “Christianize” India. Though by most accounts the Hindu nationalists represent a tiny fraction of the population, they have the capacity to create tremendous grief.

Organized radical groups today sometimes move into Christian villages, preaching a gospel of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, and urge people to take part in “reconversion” ceremonies. These groups also routinely stage counter-festivals during Christmas celebrations. Fear of a Christian takeover is pervasive; in 2001, when Italian-born Sonia Gandhi ran in national elections, one national newspaper carried the headline, “Sonia – Vulnerable to Vatican blackmail!”

Sometimes, as in the recent case of Orissa, these tensions turn violent. In 2006, for example, Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore and two priests were attacked by a mob in Jalahally, 10 miles south of Bangalore. The three clerics had come to inspect the same after St. Thomas Church and St. Claret School in Jalhally had been sacked by Hindu nationalists. Members of Catholic religious orders are also exposed. In April 1995, nationalists cracked the skulls of two nuns in a convent on the outskirts of New Delhi; another mob broke into a residence of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Angels and beat the five sisters, along with their maid, using iron rods.

As the Catholic population continues to swell in India, and as India emerges as global superpower, these challenges are likely to occupy a growing share of time and attention in Rome and around the Catholic world.

In particular, American Catholic leaders may increasingly find themselves pressed to persuade the United States government to take a more activist role in defending religious freedom in India, just as they have in recent years in China. If so, Catholic leaders may be on a collision course with emerging U.S. political and economic calculations.


Sherry's note:

India with as many Catholics as Germany - interesting.

Of course, in terms of all Christians , India is already the 7th largest Christian nation in the world and will have risen to #5 by 2025 with 107 million Christians and 137 million Christians by 2050. If true, Catholics will make about 29% of the Christians of India in 2050.

And to put it all in perspective: It is estimated that by 2050, non-Hispanic "white" Christians will only make up 1/5 of the world's Christians.

Addendum:

Gashwin has some great and extensive background on the whole situation here.