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We have begun the New Year with new resolutions. We wish one another that the New Year be a time of peace, serenity and prosperity. We are still in the Year of Amoris Laetitia Family, wherein we are invited to build a stronger bond among our family members and other families by supporting them. May this year be an opportunity to build bridges between people and families. I request the Parish Priests to organise the programmes beneficial to the families taking the help of the Commission for Family.

Papal Intention for January: Pope Francis invites us to pray for true human fraternity. The Pope underlines the suffering caused by religious discrimination and persecution. Every person has his/her inherent human rights and fundamental freedoms.

These are to be respected, and thus the dignity of each person needs to be recognised. We need to underscore “respect” for the person more than mere “tolerance”. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the opening article also states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” May all Indian citizens learn to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of every person.

Sudden Demise of Fr Felix John Noronha: The Christmas mood was changed by the sudden departure of Fr Felix. His death saddens us on a day when family members, relatives, and friends meet and greet one another. Ordained in 1985, Fr Felix has served the People of God for 36 years. As we mourn his death, we pray that the Lord may grant him eternal reward and may he intercede for us. I remind all the priests of the Diocese to offer two Masses for the repose of Fr Felix Noronha.

Unity Octave: January 18-25 is a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This is a wonderful occasion to meet the Christian brethren to strengthen our bond in one faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God Incarnate. The theme for Prayer for Christian Unity is: “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him”(Mt 2: 2). The reflections prepared for the occasion explore how Christians are called to be a sign to the world of God, bringing about unity. Drawn from different cultures, races and languages, Christians share in a common search for Christ and a common desire to worship him. We must ardently make the desires of the Heart of Christ our own. Jesus prayed that all his disciples may be one (Jn 17: 21). You may contact Fr Clifford Fernandes, the Secretary of the Commission responsible for promoting Christian Unity for the material needed for Prayer.

Anti-Conversion Bill: The Karnataka Legislative Assembly has approved the Bill under the name of “The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion” and prohibits unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means.

With regard to the new Bill, the most preoccupying thing is that the burden of proving the accusation falls on the accused. This becomes all the more difficult when the interpretation of allurement is concerned. Despite so much opposition from various corners against the Bill, calling it anti-Constitutional, the Government has proceeded further. In the meantime, attacks on the Christian Churches and Institutions are on the rise, and often the culprits are not arrested when they take the law in their hands. The new Bill will only make the situation worse. Moreover, the issue of forced conversion is a highly exaggerated subject. The inertia of those who govern us regarding those who commit crimes and hurt the religious sentiments by spreading hatred and violence is a cause of concern. I request everyone to call on God so that better sense may prevail in the Country and in our State and that people may become noble, rising above hatred and indifference.

The Catholic Church is against any conversion by force or by fraudulent means. The Canon Law lays down the norm in unequivocal terms: “It is never lawful for anyone to force others to embrace the catholic faith against conscience” (can 748, §2). Pope Francis reminds the faithful saying that “Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone” (EG 14). However, “It is not by proselytising that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’” (EG 14). The joy of living the Gospel and encountering Christ should become the motivating force. We should appear as people who wish to share our joy, pointing to Christ Jesus, who alone satisfies the desires of the heart and grants peace.

The Decennial Celebrations of the Mangalore-Africa Mission: The first two Fidei Donum Priests our Diocese, Fr Alwyn D’Souza and Fr Ronald Pinto, landed in Tanzania, in the Same Diocese on 14 November 2012 and thereafter, continuous developmental and pastoral programmes were undertaken. Now six of our priests are serving in the mission. We have a High School for boys, hostels for High School Students, hostels for Higher Primary students, together with Kifaro Parish and four other substations. Organic farming and other activities, like installing solar lights, repairing houses etc., are undertaken to benefit the poor. The Mission Director Fr Alwyn has requested for special intercessions during the Prayers of the Faithful so that the programmes planned for this special year may be successfully completed. Kindly pray for the mission in Same Diocese.

I wish you all a peaceful and prosperous New Year 2022. May the Holy Family protect us.

+Peter Paul Saldanha
Bishop of Mangalore

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