Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, as its new president of CBCI

The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) has elected Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, as its new president for the next two years. The election was held at the general body meeting of the CBCI held at Thrissur on January 12. The cardinal, an Oraon, is the first tribal prelate to head the Indian Church. Until now, only bishops from traditional Catholic strongholds in western India and Eurasian communities headed the conference. The tribal Church in India is just over a century old. Simple in his manners and dress, the archbishop happened to pass through Delhi recently. In the middle of his journey, he answered a few questions put to him by MPK Kutty on current issues.

Q: What are your priorities as the new president of the CBCI?
Ans: I do not have my own plan. But I believe God has plans for His people. As Christians we are to discover His plan and then keep ourselves within His purposes and priorities.

Q: One problem the Christian community facing at the moment is its division into various denominations. Do you see any possibility of the conflicts within getting resolved?

Ans: The problem of disunity is faced throughout the world. Christ founded only one church. The trinity of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit reflects unity. How can the church communicate its message if there are divisions within?

Q: What are your views on problems faced by the minorities in the country?

Ans: Indian people as a whole are tolerant. We should not exaggerate minor difficulties. It is a small group that causes all the false propaganda against Christians. We are often surrounded by enemies; let us not forget that we are not without friends. We must learn to look at the positive side of things. Even Jesus had to confront a Judas within his 12 disciples.

Q: What have you to say regarding the current controversy on conversions?

Ans: "onversion" is a much misunderstood word. Conversion in its true sense involves repentance, faith, change of heart and turning to God. We can not convert anyone. God is the author of all real conversions. God also respects freedom.

All of us need to be converted. The world fights terrorism. It is in the interest of all that the terrorists should undergo a change of heart. You can not use violence to bring about that change.

Only Jesus is perfect. Mahatma Gandhi also stated only Christ was perfect. He found imperfections in all Christians. Christians must live their faith. The life of faith means a life of obedience, surrender and total commitment to serve the Lord and fellow beings. The Lord wanted us to love even our enemies. The people must see such love in you; they must see your good works and glorify the Father.

Q: Do you see a dichotomy in the things Christians preach and the way they live?

Ans: Christians too have to repent and turn to God. They believe in Christ, but then live like everyone else. They should be role models...that is how they should preach.

Q: Who are the people who have inspired you?

Ans: A number of people had influenced me. Mother Teresa for example. I was closely associated with the present Pope John Paul II. Accounts of the lives of St Paul, St Peter and other apostles had also impressed me. St Francis of Assisi was another whose life and teachings I had admired. My mother who had lived to the ripe old age of 101 was a great believer. I lost my father when I was 11; he had instilled in me a desire to study well and serve God. Besides I owe a debt of gratitude to several of my teachers and preachers.

Q: What have you to say concerning the current problems facing the nation?

Ans: There is no country in the world that is without problems. History is evolving and progressing. The Lord is in control. Christians should promote the Christian way of solving problems. At a recent meeting with President Abdul Kalam, he told me that humanly speaking it was impossible to solve all the problems. But with spiritual power and moral authority we can overcome many problems. Even Mahatma Gandhi has said that it is possible to meet the needs, but not the greed of the people. In fact greed and selfishness are two great obstacles we face today.

Q: What about the issue of corruption?
Ans: When those in power become corrupt, the people will not receive justice. There can not be peace without justice. Peace is also an essential condition for development. In fact peace and development go hand in hand.