A Christian response to the 'outcasts' of society and the Church

A two-day conference will take place in central London next month to reflect on the discrimination that people in or from the Indian sub-continent experience because of their caste and what a Christian response to the Dalits or outcasts might be.

Last January, to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Churches Together in Southall, Middlesex, gathered in St Anselm's Catholic Church for a Service that had been prepared in India for use throughout the world. The theme of the Week of Prayer 2013 was set in a context of the great injustice that Dalits ("outcasts") experience, both in India and in the wider Church. Christians involved in last year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity recognised that the search for visible unity could not be dissociated from the dismantling of the caste system and a greater appreciation of the contribution to unity of the poorest of the poor.

"We came together in worship and in solidarity with our Dalit brothers and sisters, mindful of the challenging words of Pope John Paul II to the Catholic Bishops of India," says parish priest at St Anselm's, Fr Gerard Mitchell SJ. "Fortuitously, the theme of this Week of Prayer coincided with efforts in the United Kingdom, to combat caste discrimination on the rise in the British-Asian community. Last Spring, UK's anti-discrimination Equality Act 2010, with caste as 'an aspect of race', was amended, making it illegal."

Since then, members of faith communities in Southall have continued to meet to consider ways in which they might support Dalits, both Christian and non-Christian, in their local area and in South Asia. Now a Conference is planned for 18 and 19 February which will provide an opportunity to hear the voices of the Dalit struggle and to reflect upon how the words of Pope John Paul II might impact upon the Church in its work of evangelisation and the development of peoples.

Christian Responsibility to Dalits and Caste Discrimination is the title of the two-day non-residential conference at Amigo Hall, St George's Cathedral, Lambeth Road, London SE1. It will be chaired by Bishop Patrick Lynch, the Chair of the Office for Migration Policy for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and Episcopal President of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ). Other speakers will include Lord Bishop Richard Harries, Lord David Alton, Bishop Pete Broadbent, Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of the Dalit Commission, Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, and Davinder Prasad, General Secretary of CasteWatchUK.

Jesuit Fr Gerard Mitchell SJ of Southall, a member of the Organising Committee, will also address the conference. "Caste discrimination poisons the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters," he says. "It strips them of status and keeps them in abject poverty. This conference next month is an opportunity to hear from those who speak powerfully and authoritatively, from national and international perspectives."

For more information, phone: 07919247332 or email fr.gerardmitchellsj@vodintl.org.uk