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In addition to these obstacles, the church also had to endure internal tensions. Conflicts developed between the Portuguese missionaries and the Oriental Christians about which rites to follow. There was even a reluctance to admit native Indians into the missionary congregations. All these slowed the church’s growth.

Along with national independence in 1947 came the sudden ban on foreign missionaries’ entrance into the country. In effect, the church was brought to a standstill. Missionary congregations were forced to search for vocations from local communities. This search proved especially successful in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Thousands of enthusiastic and zealous youth entered religious novitiates and enrolled in seminaries. Today the Indian church boasts over 13,000 priests and 60,000 religious sisters who were born in India. All 122 dioceses in India are now overseen by bishops of Indian origin.

Once a grateful hearer of the Word, the Indian church now through its own missionary efforts is preacher of the Word in such difficult terrains as the desert in Rajasthan, the snow-clad Himalayan mountains, and the Hindu strongholds of Mathura, Rishikesh, Uttarkailash and Badrinath.

The church in India is diverse and multifaceted. Its multicolored membership worships God in many languages and rites. This diversity, however, has brought with it problems unique to Indian Christianity. Since the sixteenth century, Christians in India have fallen into two major divisions: The St. Thomas Christians of the Syrq-Malabar and SyroMalabar rites and the Latin-rite Christians. The former have been numerous and socially influential, especially in the south, whereas the latter were numerous only in some areas and viewed themselves primarily as part of a larger Roman Catholic community rather than as members of a local or national community. This conflict has led to many sad consequences. Two particularly unfortunate examples: the suppression of the liturgy and destruction of liturgical books of the Eastern rites after the synod of Diampur in 1599 and the repression of the Syro-Malabars and subsequent revolt against Latin domination, all led to the schism of the Malabar church from Rome.

Before World War II, these tensions between rites and differences about primary allegiances were confined to communities on the Malabar coast. Now they are more widespread.

The Eastern Church in Kerala has supplied most of India’s vocations, replacing and supplementing the foreign missionaries. As a result, over 60 percent of the priests and religious women and men of India practice the Eastern rites. Meantime, most of the territory where Christians live has been Latinized.

Indian national independence and integration has resulted in the extensive migration of Eastern Catholics to all corners of the country. Such changes have inevitably resulted in conflicts in these regions.

Hard as it is for those unfamiliar with India to understand, there are 15 official languages in India (besides English which most Indians speak and read), three or four of which are popular in most urban areas. In order to accommodate these pastoral needs, consequently, Catholic liturgies have been conducted in the more common languages of the faithful. While the official church backs such a move, some influential groups resist it.

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Tags: India Catholic Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Church history Diversity