New Delhi: Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto has defended a letter he wrote to all churches in the national capital calling for prayers ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, saying his request had nothing to do with the Narendra Modi government.
In the letter dated May 8 and addressed to all Archdioceses of Delhi, Couto had called for a prayer campaign beginning May 13 in the face of “turbulent political atmosphere threatening democracy and secularism” before general elections next year. The letter also contained a prayer to be read at Sunday masses.
“It is our hallowed practice to pray for our country and its political leaders all the time, but all the more so when we approach the general elections. As we look forward towards 2019, when we will have new government, let us begin a prayer campaign for our country from May 13 (sic),” the letter said.
The prayer attached with the letter read as follows: “May the ethos of true democracy envelop our elections with dignity and the flames of honest patriotism enkindle our political leaders. This is our cry, Heavenly Father, in these troubled times as we see the clouds eclipsing the light of truth, justice and freedom."
The letter went on to call upon Christians to fast every Friday “for the nation”. “I request that we observe a day of fast every Friday of the week by forgoing at least one meal and offering our penance and all our sacrifices for our spiritual renewal and that of our nation…. Moreover, I earnestly request that we organise an hour of Eucharistic adoration every Friday at a convenient time in all our parishes, religious houses and institution specifically praying for our nation.”
The letter triggered controversy with BJP spokesperson Shaina NC saying it is “wrong to try and instigate castes or communities.”
“You can tell them to vote for right candidate or party but to suggest voting for one party and not another and term yourself as secular vs pseudo-secular is unfortunate," she said.
Reacting to the letter, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, “The Prime Minister is working towards inclusive growth without discriminating while breaking barriers of religion and caste. We can only ask them to think with progressive mindset.”
Reverend Couto, however, denied any political motive to the letter. “Prayer for country is always there and it is a very private matter. We have only asked our churches to spend one day a week to pray and it’s a private matter and no one can interfere with it. We are concerned with atmosphere, issues plaguing the country. It’s only a request from various people to pray for the country,” he told News18.
He also clarified that the letter “did not pertain” to the Modi government and that he was raising concerns as a citizen of India.
“This does not pertain to the government of Narendra Modi or anybody like that. In the last four years, so much has appeared in newspapers and media, with regard to eating habits of people, lynching incidents and also the four judges coming out in public and all these things happening at the level of judiciary causes concern and as a citizen of India, I am raising concerns. We are law-abiding citizens and therefore we are concerned,” he said.
He added that prayers had been held before general elections earlier as well. “This is a letter which has been issued only for the Archdioceses of Delhi and it has come from the request of the people and Christian leaders. Elections are approaching which concerns the Christian community and everyone else. Every four years, we do have special prayers in the churches,” said the Archbishop.
Father Robinson, the Archbishop’s secretary, also said the letter was not political. “The Archbishop's letter is not political, neither is it against the government nor against the honourable Prime Minister. Misinformation should not be spread. It’s just an invitation for prayers and such letters have been written in the past too.”