The assembly of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) has ended with a call to the churches of this multi-faith nation to be more "inclusive" in their relationships with other religious groups."The church is called upon to continually strive for greater mutual understanding with people of other faiths," said the official "message" released by the NCCI assembly as it closed in Ranchi, India, March 6. (The assembly is held every four years.) At the same time, the message urged churches to lobby against Hindu fanaticism and against moves to strengthen India's caste system.In a bid to strengthen ecumenical co-operation as part of these goals, the NCCI, whose 29 Protestant and Orthodox member churches account for 10 million Christians, is to seek closer links with the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, which represents India's 16 million Catholics."It is pertinent that we live our faith and eliminate all evils, and work towards an all-inclusive community," declared the message, which had the unanimous approval of 350 representatives and leaders from NCCI member churches."The approach of the church for the next millennium is to be an inclusive community," said Vinod Peter, a Church of North India (CNI) bishop who was elected during the assembly to the post of NCCI president, which he will hold for four years.Bishop Peter, who is also moderator of the CNI, told Ecumenical News International (ENI) after his March 5 installation as NCCI president that "we [the churches] should be constantly relating with other communities around us, particularly in the present context." He was referring to propaganda and violence directed against Christians, largely by Hindu fundamentalists, some of whom are allegedly linked to the federal and various state governments. Christians account for only 2.32 percent of India's one billion citizens. India has many different religious communities, but the biggest are the Hindus—80 percent of the population.Acknowledging that Christians are "relating" with people of other faiths "individually," 61-year-old Bishop Peter pointed out to ENI that "at community level and among religious leaders, there has been very little interaction." As a result religious groups remained "isolated" from each other, and "steeped in differences," he said. Religious communities should undertake dialogue with other faiths "to understand and find out the commonalties on we which we can adhere and become friends. This has become a necessity since fundamentalist forces are becoming more assertive," said Bishop Peter. "It is not enough that we do the right thing. We have to be understood rightly."The NCCI message described recent accusations that churches were engaging in the "forced and induced conversions" of Hindus, as "a mere bogey and cover for [Hindu] fundamentalists to prevent and terrorize the church from serving the poor and upholding their dignity and human rights."The attacks on Christians by Hindu fundamentalists make the present "the finest hour for the church to witness the faith," according to the message, which will be translated into more than 20 of India's major languages and distributed among NCCI church congregations.The message also urged churches "to show greater dedication and commitment to oppose Hindu fundamentalist moves to restore the [upper] casteist hegemony" over low castes and the marginalized people of Indian society.The outgoing NCCI president, leading Lutheran layman K. Rajaratnam, warned delegates at the assembly, "We should not project recent attacks on us [Christians] as mere attacks on a minority community. These are attacks on the very secular foundations of the nation by forces opposed to secularism and social justice."A resolution adopted at the assembly urged churches "to join hands" with "human rights groups and secular parties to meet the challenge posed by Hindu fundamentalists."To follow up this resolution, the assembly authorized the NCCI executive to take appropriate measures for "greater collaboration" with the Roman Catholic Church—India's biggest church—and with secular groups.As a first step to ensure "proximity and cooperation" with the Catholic Church, the NCCI has decided to move the offices of its general secretary and communication and national affairs commissions from Nagpur, in central India, to New Delhi, India's capital, where the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) has its headquarters. The NCCI assembly also decided to explore the possibility of establishing a "Conference of Bishops and Heads of Churches (CBHC) for NCCI member churches, on the lines of CBCI, to facilitate better interaction among church leaders.""I am a layman. It is a fact that a body of bishops commands much respect among Christians and to the outside world," Rajaratnam said when putting the proposal that was approved by the assembly. While NCCI would remain the key administrative body, the CBHC could, according to the resolution, be a forum to lobby for Christian concerns.Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.

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Related Elsewhere's recent coverage of India includes:Arrest made in India murder of missionary Graham Staines | Hindu radical apprehended after one year, but Christians claim state oppression now main problem. (Feb. 2, 2000) Hindus Protest Papal Visit to India | Fundamentalists accuse Christians of 'forced conversions' (Nov. 16, 1999) The Fiery Rise of Hindu Fundamentalism | After a missionary and his two sons are martyred, Christians in India press for greater religious freedom. (Mar. 1, 1999)