Cardinal Topo, Inaugural Address

Your Eminence, Cardinal Oswald Gracious,

Dear Bishop Binay, the President and Office-bearers of the Canon Law Society of India,

Reverend Fathers, Sisters and friends,

I am extremely delighted to welcome you all to Ranchi! It is a great privilege to have you all here! Let me sincerely thank you for choosing Ranchi as the venue for this 23rd Annual Conference of the Canon Law Society of India. By choosing Ranchi, you are recognizing this relatively young, yet vibrant Church, in this region of Chotanagpur, in the tribal heartland of India.

It was in 1845, the first Christian missionaries arrived in Chotanagpur. The Catholic Church has its presence in this area from 1869. One of the most ardent pioneering Belgian missionaries, Fr. Constant Lievens SJ, came here in 1885.

Fr. Lievens used to remind passionately his fellow priests and the people of this mission “to work for a well-knit and disciplined community”. The Servant of God, Fr. Lievens knew the importance of law, discipline and right procedures to afford stability to the society. The Church has a transcendent spiritual purpose: the ultimate salvation of its members, their reconciliation and communion with God. Good order brings predictable outcome. It is this insistence on a disciplined life by visionary leaders like Fr. Constant Lievens that helped the Church to grow and flourish in this region.

I was happy to see in your programme, a session on the Chotanagpur Tenency Act. This year the Church in Ranchi is celebrating triple centenaries: Centenary of our Archdiocesan Cathedral; of the Chotanagpur Catholic Cooperative Society, and that of the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act. Fr. Xavier Soreng, S.J., who is also the member of the Minority Education Commission, and Advocate Reshmi Katyayan, a senior Advocate of Ranchi High Court, will be conducting the session. However, we are proud to say that the brain behind the enactment of the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, in 1908, was a Catholic priest, a Belgian Jesuit missionary, Fr. John Baptist Hoffmann. This one example would be sufficient to write volumes of research findings to prove, how precious and valuable are the Laws in the life of the people, especially of the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized. Land is life for the tribal. Without land, they are broken. They are totally shattered. Thanks to the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, the tribals were protected by and large from the alienation of their land down through these years.

Dear Fathers and friends specialized in Canon Law, this your annual gathering here in Ranchi, offers me a favourable opportunity to reaffirm the importance of your ecclesial ministry and the need for your legal work. I would like to express my appreciation of your sensitive and demanding work in the administration of justice. In our challenging world, where practice and observance of law is often considered out-dated, archaic and orthodox, your insightful service to the truth in justice will be proved most essential to the growth and development of the society.

Pope John Paul II of venerable memory, in 1983, promulgating the Code of Canon Law, explained the purpose of the canonical legislation, saying, “The purpose of the Code is not to substitute for faith, grace, charism and especially charity in the life of the Church or of the Christian faithful. On the contrary, its very purpose is to create an order in the ecclesial society so that, while giving priority to love, grace and charism, their ordered development is facilitated in the life of the ecclesial society as well as in the lives of the individuals who belong to it. (Apostolic constitution, Sacrae Disciplinae Leges)

The main theme that you have chosen for this year’s Annual Conference is on the Sacraments, other than marriage. Both the Latin and the Oriental Code imbibe the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, especially when they speak about the Sacraments. It is a celebration rather than just an administration. I am happy that these five days you dedicate on an in-depth study on these Canons on the Sacraments.

On this Sunday, on October 18, 2009, we concluded the Indian Mission Congress (Prabhu Yesu Mahotsav) in Mumbai. It was excellently well organized. After one of the sessions, responding to a journalist, this is what I told: Our mission is not primarily “doing”, but “being”. The task of the 18 million Catholics in India is “to illuminate our whole country.”

Pope Benedict XVI in his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est – God is love, reminds: “Love – caritas – will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love” (n. 28.b). The Greek poet Virgil in the Bucolics wrote, “Omnia vincit amor” – love conquers all—and he adds: “et nos cedamus amori” – let us, too, yield to love!

Once again, thank you for choosing Ranchi for this Conference. Thank you for being here. A cordial welcome to each and every one of you! May God bless us all!

Fr. Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo