27. The person of Jesus Christ continues to be the central focus of the Christian experience. The kenotic experience he underwent makes him one with all those who suffer and are oppressed. Through him, God's address is made to humankind so that men and women are transformed and attain their true humanness and divine dignity.
The Proclamation of Christianity
28. In the biblical narrative of creation, God is seen creating all human beings equal They are made in the image of God. A just society considers all persons equal before the law. Christianity,
as derived from the life and message of Jesus Christ, proclaims the equal status and dignity of every human being and the consequent right of every person to live in freedom. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus reveals God as Father of all men and women who are equal members in God's family. In the history of the First (Old) Testament God is seen as one who sides with the slave, the orphan, the widow, and the defenceless, namely, the anawim. These groups are seen as poor not because of personal failings but because injustice has been done to them. The liberation from Egypt is the enduring paradigm of God's power exercised on behalf of those who suffer because of injustice. Today's 'people of Israel' who groan under their bondage are those pushed to the margins of society, especially the Dalits.
29. In the Second (New) Testament, Jesus' concern for the oppressed and suffering is fundamental to his mission to proclaim good news to the poor, to set those in chains free and to bring liberty to the oppressed (Luke 4/18-19); it fulfils the messianic expectation found in the Old Testament (Isaiah 61). During his public ministry, Jesus made a decisive option for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and the outcast. He reserved his special care and attention for those who were looked down on totally by society. He chose fishermen as his close disciples; he shared table-fellowship with sinners; he touched the untouchable lepers, healed them and reinstated them in society; he allowed the "polluting" hemorrhaging woman to touch him thus curing her; he not only asked for a drink from the despised Samaritan woman but also made her a missionary disciple; he praised the gratitude of the Samaritan leper whom he had cured and paid tribute to the compassionate humanity of the "good Samaritan"; he even broke the Sabbath to heal the suffering like the paralytic, the man with the withered hand and the bent woman. He thus restored their dignity as children of Abraham and, more importantly, of God. Jesus did not believe that an external agent like birth or touch could cause purity or pollution. For Jesus, only the deliberate intention of committing evil and injustice towards another pollutes a person.
30. As a prophet, Jesus protested against the hypocrisy and inhumanity of the scribes and the Pharisees; he drove out the traders from the temple precincts to protest against the commercialization and desecration of the house of God; when he was slapped by the servant of the high priest Annas, instead of turning the other cheek, he dared to question him; when Pilate, the Roman Governor, tried to impress him with his claim to power, Jesus made him aware of its true ground and nature.
31. At the Last Supper, Jesus gives to his disciples the broken bread as the symbol of his broken body on the cross. Jesus allies himself with the social outcast, the economically poor and the exploited (Mt 11: 19). He sees himself as God's servant bringing justice to the people (Mt 12: 18). More than expressing mere sympathy and compassion for the miserable condition of the poor and suffering, Jesus stresses the need for prophetic engagement to bring about a community of equals. His prophetic protest can be seen reflected in the anti-caste movements of persons like Ambedkar and Periyar. Jesus' own life had humble beginnings in a stable, outside normal human habitation, exactly like the Dalits. In his death he was crucified as a despised criminal, abandoned and cast out from the Holy City. He died in close solidarity with all the crucified people of the earth. He emptied himself, becoming like refuse and rejected by society. Through this action of total solidarity with the poor and the outcast, he remains faithful to the will of his Father and proclaims a reign of justice and peace, dignity and equality for all who are victims, like the Dalits. In fact, by making the cause of the suffering masses his own, Jesus authenticated his person and his mission. The Reign of God that Jesus proclaimed is not confined merely to an individual's conversion but to a community's transformation.
32. The Church is the community. that symbolizes the transforming power of God in the world. It witnesses to the power of Christ changing persons and structures so that all may enjoy a decent and humane existence. The triumph of God's Reign is holistic. If it includes a turning to God in faith, it implies no less a qualitative change in the way persons relate to each other in the world. The Holy Spirit that Jesus leaves in his Church is meant to bring about the Reign of God among all people: to make them graced individuals, possessed of dignity as children of God and capable of living their lives in freedom and security. To the extent that Dalits experience discrimination in the Church, there is a betrayal of Christian discipleship, eucharistic fellowship and, therefore, a rejection of God's Reign as proclaimed by Jesus.
33. The situation of the Dalits today has come into the consciousness of the Church. Such awareness coupled with the assertiveness of Dalit identity must be seen as positive signs of God’s Reign taking shape in today's world. As Yahweh made common cause with the people of Israel who were oppressed in Egypt, as Jesus shared fellowship with society's rejects of his day, so too the Church of today is called to identify itself with the aspirations, the hopes and struggles of the Dalits. The Church will become an authentic witness to the gospel and a true symbol of God's liberating initiative in Jesus Christ when it works towards the total emancipation of Dalits. The active involvement of the Church with Dalits in their struggle for liberation, social justice and human dignity while constituting an essential aspect of the Church's mission in India, will transform the Church itself so that it authentically witnesses to the Christ event in the world. It will be the sign of the Holy Spirit working in the Church to bring about social identity and self-determination to a people that have suffered for centuries.
34. The Church of the New Testament was a witnessing community seeking to proclaim the message of Jesus in different contexts. Not only do we see this happening in A.D. 49 at the Council of Jerusalem but also the communion of Churches shows that ethnic contexts did allow for diversity within the one unity of faith. In the post New Testament phase, and especially when the era of Constantine brought peace and status to the Christians, the Church adopted the social and political structures of the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages, the governing structures and organs of jurisdiction grew in prominence and affected the Church's self- understanding. An ecclesiology developed that suited the institutional setup of the established Church but was not sufficiently sympathetic to the needs of persons placed in varied contexts and regions. The manner in which the Church reacted to the question posed by the Malabar and Chinese Rites well illustrates the bias against the contextualization of Christianity. This would partly explain why the Church was not sufficiently agitated to respond to the questions and issues that emerged from the Dalits in their quest for liberation. In the past, the established Church adopted approaches that were suited to evangelize the upper caste people and preferential treatment was offered to those converts but neglected to provide special care for the Dalits. They got only the crumbs that fell from the table.
35. Dalits entered the Church with the hope that the Christian proclamation would ensure a just and egalitarian society at least within the Church. But they found that they were sadly mistaken, because the horror of exclusion, rejection and oppression followed them even after they became Christians.
36. It is only in recent times that the Church has awakened to address the questions and problems experienced by the Dalits with boldness and determination. In fact, the Church has started discovering the similarity between the brokenness of the Dalits and the broken and bleeding body of the crucified Jesus on Calvary. Jesus who was unjustly done to death on the cross was raised to life by the Righteous Father, thus giving authentic hope to all the crucified people. The Eucharist is the enduring symbol of wholeness that emerges from brokenness.
37. First of all, there is the need to recognize the complex reality of the Dalits. The Dalit question touches on different areas: politics, economics, social groupings, cultural moorings and religious sanctions. There must also be a determined effort to unmask the biased upper caste interpretations of myths and presuppositions that continue to hold the Dalits in subjugation. Instead, Dalit interpretations and myths that affirm the culture of life and liberation should be propagated.
38. The Church must commit itself to affirmative action that favours Dalits in their pursuit of growth, relationship and self- fulfillment. The Church can foster institutional groupings at the national, diocesan and parish levels that would facilitate the efforts of Dalits to receive a good education, to learn skills for gainful self- employment, to participate as co-humans in the political processes, and to ensure that the forces of exclusion do not prevail.
39. While making all the efforts to prevent the government from discriminating against the Dalit Christians on the basis of their religion, the hierarchical Church needs to set its own house in order. It should see to it that Dalits are given equal opportunities- by a clear policy of reservation for proportional representation- to occupy significant postings in the Church administration and church-run institutions. It would also be necessary for Church officials to prepare qualified Dalits who would succeed to reserved postings in the Church.
40. Just as the Church organizes theology programmes in different places to educate Catholics in their religion, it should also organize similar programmes for persons to come to an in-depth knowledge regarding the evils of caste system, and the sad plight of the Dalit brothers and sisters in it. It must be pointed out that it is a grave sin to deprive people of their human dignity on the basis of birth, and to deny them their God-given right and freedom to choose. The moral conscience of the Christian community should be awakened to realize that anyone who considers a Dalit, in whom God's Spirit resides, as inferior and polluting by birth is committing the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit; so also anyone who consciously continues to practice caste discriminations against the Dalilts is committing a sacrilege in receiving the Body of the Lord in communion.
The Church and Conversion
41. In the Christian vocabulary, conversion means a change of heart or a turning to God. Today's society, however, views conversion mainly as changing from one religion to another. Such a change is public, occurs in a historical context and has political, social and economic implications. While there is justification in seeing conversion as the end result of a spiritual quest, it is also true that such a quest is often accompanied by legitimate social and economic considerations. Hence, in the case of Dalit conversions, the Church must not be put off by the trumped-up charge of "forced or fraudulent conversions."
42. The religiously fanatic and fundamentalist forces look at conversion to other religions as a threat. Some groupings, especially those belonging to the far right, choose to view the conversion of Dalits to Christianity as an anti-national act. In practice, such conversion threatens their hitherto unchallenged hegemony.
43. It is difficult to deny that in the past, in many Indian States, the hierarchy's attitude to Dalits has been affected by a casteist mentality. In some parts of India Christian Dalits have experienced criminal caste discriminations in the Christian community. Conversion is not a mere internal act. People are converted as members of society and form new communities. If it is liberation and human dignity that Dalits seek when they are converted to the Church, they must find Christian brotherhood and full acceptance on entering the Church. This would be a fitting start to healing wounds and hurts of centuries. If not, conversion will be no more than a cultic act that makes for change of community but not of caste! It would be a mockery of the sacraments, especially of Baptism and Eucharist.
Catechesis and Sacramental Liturgy
44. Catechesis is directed to faith formation. In faith formation, there must be a serious effort to inculcate values of egalitarianism when learning about the truths of Christianity. One cannot preach about the eucharistic celebration being a sign of unity when Dalits are forced to keep their distance from Christians of a dominant caste. Sermons and exhortations should emphasize the evil of caste discrimination when practised in the administration of the sacraments and in the duties linked with ecclesiastical establishments.