Photo Credit: Lambeth Conference Company
[ACNS, Rachel Farmer] Pilgrimage, prayer and pastoral concern will form the key elements of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to the United Churches of North and South India this September.
The Archbishop, Justin Welby, will be joined by his wife Mrs Welby, for the 10-day visit, which will include taking part in 100th anniversary commemorations of the massacre in Amritsar.
Archbishop Justin said: “My prayer is that this visit will first and foremost provide opportunities for me to pray with local Christians; secondly, I want to listen to the stories of local people, to hear the joys and challenges they face in their daily life; and, finally, I am looking forward to visiting key places of worship and significance. India has a long and distinguished Christian history, going back as early as the first century when Saint Thomas is said to have travelled to Kerala. I am looking forward to learning from the Church in India and sharing in their worship."
The India trip, planned following an invitation from the two Churches, will begin on the 31 August, following a visit to Sri Lanka where the Archbishop will stand in solidarity with Christians and the victims of the Easter bombings.
Starting in the south of India, in Kerala, the Archbishop plans to visit Kottayam, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Medak with the Church of South India and then move on to Jabalpur, Kolkata and Amritsar with the Church of North India.
Archbishop Justin will visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar and will be the first Archbishop to visit the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He will join in commemorations for the tragedy, when thousands of unarmed Indians of many different faiths were shot by British troops in 1819.
Speaking about the event, the Archbishop’s inter-religious affairs adviser, Dr Richard Sudworth, said Justin Welby would be giving a statement including a “transparent account” of what happened. "We regard this with real soberness,” he said, “as a moment for recognising some of the sins of our history, in order to move forward with good will and mutual flourishing."
According to Dr Sudworth, there were currently no plans for the Archbishop to meet with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to talk about rising levels of persecution against Christians. He said the Archbishop will be visiting the country as a church leader, not a political leader and would be there first and foremost to meet with and listen to local Christians. Dr Sudworth said, “The constitution of India gives freedom of religion and belief to all groups and it’s the responsibility of all leaders, both political and religious, to affirm and implement what is already there in the constitution."
Both the Church of South India and the Church of North India have many millions of members despite them being minority churches within India and only making up about 2.5% of the total population.
Other highlights of the visit are expected to include a visit to Jabalpur in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, when the Archbishop will be part of the formal opening of a brand new Christian school demonstrating how a minority Christian community is being a ‘force for good’ in wider society.
The Archbishop will join thousands of worshippers at services in churches and cathedrals and is also expected to visit the Henry Martin Institute in Hyderabad - a specialist centre for inter-religious studies. He will deliver an address on Christian prayer to religious leaders from Hindu, Muslim, Sikh backgrounds, together with various Christian denominations, to encourage discussion on religious diversity and the benefits of learning together.