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From Goan priest, to cace of Catholics in India

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┬áreturns to Delhi archdiocese as archbishop and the possibility of becoming the face of India’s Catholics, as he heads the country’s most politically influential diocese. Past archbishops of Delhi have wielded influence in national matters and Couto’s predecessors-Archbishop Alan de Lastic and Archbishop Vincent Concessao-have proved this by their deeds.

“It is the Delhi Catholic archdiocese that dominates the national ecumenical and secular space as the face not just of a denomination, but of the entire Christian church and community, in India. Location, the presence of the national and international print and TV media, and the opportunity to interact with Parliament and the government, gives the head of the Delhi archdiocese a reach denied to the other dioceses and bishops,” said Delhi-based John Dayal, member, National Integration Council, government of India, and also a former national president of the All-India Catholic Union, and secretary general of the All-India Christian Council.

Into this reach will come Couto when he will be installed as Archbishop of Delhi on January 20, 2013, and the new archbishop is well-aware of what awaits him.

“That (leadership role) is definitely one of the challenges before me. Given where the Archdiocese of Delhi is situated, the bishop has to liaison with the government and this is not restricted to matters pertaining only to Delhi, but involves issues in other parts of the country too. The Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India (CBCI) is also there in Delhi, but the archbishop of Delhi has to liaison with the government.” Dayal gives the archbishop a role far wider than that of liaison. “The archbishop does exercise some influence on national policy-making because of his physical proximity to MPs and ministers who he meets during his participation in several government functions every year. Such proximity has never been calculative,” Dayal said.

Couto is not new to Delhi and knows the challenges of the archdiocese very well. He was auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese for six years between 2001 and 2007, and was auxiliary to Archbishop Vincent Concessao who is retiring, and Couto is replacing.

“The archdiocese of Delhi is now reduced in size. That is the reality. The archdiocese of Delhi has been reduced by almost half its strength. It is a cosmopolitan archdiocese with people from Jharkhand forming the largest segment. Catholics from Goa and Mangalore are very few. Then there are others from all over India. I expect the Catholic population of Jharkhand in Delhi to grow further,” Couto said.

In his home state of Goa the news of Couto being appointed archbishop of Delhi was received with joy. In his first visit home after the announcement of his elevation, Couto concelebrated the mass at the feast of St Francis Xavier on December 3. “Goa is glad and proud that it has contributed to the church with a number of bishops, including some who have served in the Vatican diplomatic mission,” said Fr Joaquim Loiola Pereira, senior priest and secretary to the archbishop of Goa and Daman.

Goa has quite a history of providing priests to other dioceses and Couto is among the many bishops of Goan origin in the country and outside it, a number of them in Pakistan. “The missionary church of Goa has a long tradition of providing leadership to the Church in India and in the world. The cardinal of Bombay is one, and the new archbishop of Delhi is another example of Goa’s missionary spirit and leadership shining forth,” said Theodore Mascarenhas, head of the department for cultures in Asia, Africa and Oceania at the Pontifical Council for Culture at the Vatican.

Couto, too, is glad that the missionary zeal still exists in Goa. “I am grateful for my upbringing in Goa and feel indebted and quite grateful to Goa. I am also happy that the church in Goa has this missionary outlook and I feel good about it,” Couto told TOI.

Couto said he wasn’t expecting the elevation and transfer back to Delhi. “I accept it as it has come from the Holy Father. I do so trusting in God’s grace,” Couto said.

Courtesy : TOI