Indian catholic body tells its schools not to push Christian traditions on students

Christian devotees gather for a mass at a church in Chennai (AFP via Getty Images)
Christian devotees gather for a mass at a church in Chennai (AFP via Getty Images)

India’s leading Catholic body has asked schools associated with it to not force Christian traditions on students of other faiths – one of a raft of suggestions to tackle growing social and political hostility against the minority community.

In a 13-page guideline and instruction document, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) has asked all educational institutions under its jurisdiction to respect all faiths and traditions, to have students recite the Preamble to the Indian Constitution for the daily morning assembly, and set up an “inter-religious prayer room” on school premises, reported The Indian Express.

The suggestions are meant to help address the “emerging challenges due to the current socio-cultural, religious and political situation” in the country.

Christians in India – especially staff of educational institutions run by Catholic groups – have faced several attacks and protests in recent months from Hindu national groups aligned with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

There are around 14,000 schools, 650 colleges, seven universities, and hundreds of vocational and technical institutions under the CBCI.

The document was released just a few days after India’s Home Ministry revoked the Foreign Contribution Registration Act (FCRA) licence of five prominent non-governmental organisations – the majority of them Christian. The ministry accused them of violating foreign grants and being involved in religious conversion.

The ministry, which has cancelled the FCRA licences of more than 100 NGOs so far, had issued a six-month extension to several of these NGOs in September 2023. When the extension ended on 30 March, they lost their licences.

As a result, these organisations will no longer be able to receive or utilise foreign contributions, unless their licences are renewed.

The church is watchful of such situations, according to Father Maria Charles SDB, the national secretary of CBCI.

“Given the political and social situation which is emerging these days, I think we need to be more sensitive as Catholic schools. It is also a reminder to the principals to be more sensitive, because the majority of our students and teachers are always from other faiths,” he told The Indian Express.

In December 2021, the Indian government rejected a request from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity to renew its licence to receive foreign donations under FCRA.