Christianity in India: two thousand years of faith

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Viking, 2004 - Religion - 336 pages
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Christians Have Lived In India Since The Early Centuries Of This Era. In South India They Believe Their Ancestors Received The Gospel From The Apostle Thomas. After That, The Arrival Of Christianity Was Sporadic, Helped First By Merchants And Priests From The Middle East And From The Fifteenth Century By European Merchants And Missionaries Who Settled In India. The Faith That Took Root Was Strongly Influenced By Local Organizations And Cultures; Thus The Christians In Kerala, Tamil Nadu And Goa Are Almost As Different From Each Other As They Are From Their Hindu And Muslim Counterparts, The Tribal Christians Of Central And North-Eastern India, And Dalit Christians All Over The Country. Written By Two Of The Country'S Foremost Theologians, Christianity In India Traces The Fascinating History Of Each Of These Communities, And Describes The Role Of Christians In Education, Social Services, Multilingual Publishing And The Freedom Struggle. The Authors Explain To Non-Christians The Tenets And Rituals That Bind The Faithful, Whether Catholic, Protestant Or Orthodox, And Examine The Controversial Issues Of Caste Within Christianity And Conversions From Other Faiths.

Along The Way, We Meet Interesting Personalities In The Annals Of Indian Christendom, Such As Emperor Akbar, Who Essentially Founded The North Indian Christian Mission, And Brahmabandhab Upadhyay, The Swadeshi Catholic Who Helped Tagore Found Santiniketan.

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If this is what you really believe , why haven’t you told us so before ? Swami Krishnananda is reported to have told late Fr. R. De Smet during a philosophical conference on Advaita Vedanta and Christian theism. ‘Christianity in India’ narrates the Indian Christian experience from the time of the Armenian traders in India up to the time of Mother Teresa. This is how Indian Christians perceive themselves and how they would like to be understood. It is an insider’s view, both the authors are Christians, nay Catholics, theologians and teachers, gurus who happen to be Jesuits among the many scholars of their order. The authors Leonard Fernando and George Gispert-Sauch bring their theological and ecumenical experience in sharing the history of Indian Christians with other non-Christian communities in India, a simple narrative of the various Christian communities of the country belonging to various sociological groups, their way of life . This is a self-revelation of a marginal community in India who have not taken seriously the' mandate ‘to increase and multiply’. Their presence is minimal like the leaven in the dough.
Their approach is explanatory , fraternal, unpretentious, nonpartisan and they sound sincere, convincing and edifying. They have a nose for rare snippets well researched and presented for the illumination and delight of the general reader :
We learn how Akbar had requested Father Aegidius Perera to send priests and the books of the Bible to his court in Fathpur Sikri so that he could study the new faith that had impressed him when a priest refused to grant absolution to a Christian who failed to pay tax. He celebrated the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady and enjoined his subjects to touch and kiss the picture of Our Lady as a sign of reverence.
A certain Kanabadi Valthian who embraced the Protestant faith, had composed a Tamil catechism, had helped the missionaries in their translation work, become a Roman Catholic and eventually returned to Hinduism.
• In Bengal following the invasion of Shah Jahan in 1632, 4000 Christian prisoners were brought to Agra where the children were circumcised, the women were put in harems and the men asked to renounce their faith.
• The word ‘pariah’ as a designation of all outcastes is a Tamil word, parai, drum. The skin of dead animals was considered impure, the drums for festivals could only be played by hereditary drummers.
• A number of people suffering under the caste system opted out of it in favour of the churches which offered a new teaching and a protective community atmosphere. To the landless agricultural labourers of Barbhigha, becoming Christians was emancipation from feudal oppression. Becoming Christian was a form of social protest : a new world was open to them, improved social status, greater sense of personal dignity and self-respect, freedom from bondage and oppressive owners. ‘Conversion’ is freedom to accept a particular view, in reality nobody converts another. There are no converts, there are only Christians, Muslims, Hindus. The right to convince citing one’s experience is the keystone of all democratic debate. Government should be concerned not with what people believe or do not believe, but with how people act and contribute to the overall prosperity of the country.
• Conversion to alternative views of life will continue among tribals whose religiosity is different from the main trends of Hinduism. Those who supported the movements of Kols from Chotanagpur wanting to see Jesus had no colonial links with India. In the 1970’s I was teaching the adivasis Geography in Hindi, I doubted if I was doing the right thing by teaching in Hindi. Neither Belgians nor Germans nor Italians are known to have had any colonial designs on this country. They often conflicted with the Raj. When Christianity is forced to embrace the people’s values, as those of Mizos, worldview, and ethos, a mutual internalization produces a new and distinctive church of the ‘transformed people’.
• One cannot



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