New Delhi, Dec 9 (UNI) Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil today praised the role of Christian organisations in fields such as education and health and underlined the need for greater understanding among different communities.
Mr Patil said the secular principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution were aimed at promoting better understanding and respect for all religions.
He regretted that while religious organisations had an important role in preventing exploitation of people and other evils in society, their influence was often misused by extremist elements.
The minister was speaking at a function to celebrate the "Navathy" (90th birthday) of Dr Phillipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma, the Valia Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, and to felicitate Dr Joseph Mar Thoma, who succeeded him recently as the Metropolitan of the Kerala-based church.
Dr Chrysostom has the distinction of being the oldest bishop in India and the longest-serving bishop in Christendom, having been consecrated in 1953.
Bishops of various other churches and social activist Swami Agnivesh were among those who participated in the event.
The Mar Thoma church is celebrating Dr Chrysostom's "navathy" by building 1500 houses for the poor across the country. Keys of two such houses were handed over to the beneficiaries at today's function.
Awards were also given to well-known personalities from amongst the members of the church as well as to those connected with it for their achievements in various spheres.
The awardees included former Union Minister P J Kurien, Mr T K A Nair, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr A J Philip, Senior Associate Editor of The Tribune, doctors James Thomas and Thomas Mathew, Mr John Varghese, Additional Director General of Police, Haryana, sociologist T K Oomen, Institute of Social Sciences Director George Mathew and young Kerala film-maker Blessy Ipe Thomas.
Bishop Joseph Mar Barnabas of the church's Delhi diocese, said the church planned to set up old age homes in Bhopal and Delhi and a centre for children afflicted with AIDS in the capital soon.