INDIA' S CHRISTIANS a documentary by Elisabetta Valgiusti
article by Michelle Laque Johnson

America has become mission territory because of the shortage of priests. Thankfully, one major source of priests for the U.S. is India. How can it be that a predominantly Hindu country produces so many priests and at least 100,000 nuns?
Find out in this week's documentary, "India's Christians." (Airs 10 p.m. ET, Wed., Dec. 15 and 5 a.m. ET, Sat., Dec. 18.) This is yet another film by intrepid Italian Filmmaker Elisabetta Valgiusti, who previously brought us programs on Christian persecution in Iraq and Pakistan. But this week, she is not looking for persecution, but to understand the rise and robustness of Christianity in India. To do this, she follows the way, first, of St. Thomas the Apostle and, then, St. Francis Xavier.
Christianity was brought to this country by St. Thomas, who traveled, probably by boat, from Mesopotamia to India, where he established a surprisingly large number of Catholic churches. Valgiusti takes us inside a number of spectacular basilicas dedicated to the saint, including San Thome Basilica in Madras, where the apostle was martyred and where he is believed to be buried.
"I met His Excellency Malayappan Chinnappa,Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore, the week after he was arrested because he was protesting about problems concerning 'the untouchables,'" said Valgiusti, who explains that this class of people is so low they are not even part of India's caste system. "It is difficult in India for poor people to have an education, a decent life, respect. What I saw about the Church in India is that everybody is working very hard to [help] people get out of this disadvantaged situation."
In fact, of the more than 1 billion people in India, Valgiusti says 500 million live below the poverty level! However, the filmmaker hastens to add that progress has been made and the Indians are much better off today than they were 20 years ago.
During the film, the Archbishop explains the problems of India's caste system, but Valgiusti says he doesn't blame the Hindu society or religion. He relies on Catholic principles of social justice, which she says is a good way to approach the problem since these principles align nicely with many of the principles of the Hindu Prophet Ghandi.
After Madras, Valgiusti begins to follow the way of St. Francis Xavier, and travels to Goa, a gorgeous site filled with Christian churches. There, she speaks with the Jesuit Provincal, who explains the problems Christians sometimes encounter in India. Valgiusti says that the Indians are normally quite tolerant and very religious. However, they can be exploited politically as in one notable instance which led to an attack on a Christian village.
But, she says, you can't compare the persecution in India with places like Iraq or Pakistan. The latter was actually part of India until 1947, when the British partitioned this region into two countries. Pakistan has always been Muslim, but, in India, she says Christians can build churches and enjoy a "normal" life.
Valgiusti's final stop is Mumbai, a seaside city of 19 million people, where she speaks with Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.
"He explained very well how Christianity came up in India, the devotion of the people, and important Indian thinkers and theologians," Valgiusti said. "He is a great leader for our Church there."
Set up your DVRs now so you don't miss this fascinating peak into the heart of India's Christians!

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