Christians in India launched a national day to promote unity among believers amid heightened persecution in the country.

Christians from different denominations observed the first Indian Christian Day on July 3, the day historically observed as St. Thomas Day. The apostle is regarded as the one who evangelized Indians in 52 A.D. Christian groups used social media to publicize the event and encourage others to give importance to Christan unity and the Christian faith, as well as preserving their identity within the Indian culture, reports Uganda Christian News.

This day has broken the barriers of denominational differences and has also given us a hope to stand together as one, shedding all other differences. —Shibu Thomas, the founder of Persecution Relief

Various churches issued a declaration initiating Christian Day. The declaration states: “The celebration of Indian Christian Day (Yeshu Bhakti Divas) on 3 July 2021, will launch the Decade of Celebration (2021-2030) to honor the 2000th anniversary of the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ whose teaching and life principles have helped to shape and transform India and the world.”

Everybody was welcome to join the event to celebrate the message of Jesus. The Vision Statement of Indian Christian Day stressed that, “in these challenging and difficult times: the world needs more than ever the compassion, the mercy and the courage to stand up for the least, the lost and the last which Jesus radiated all through his life on earth.”

Organizers prepared events for the local, national and global levels to reach more Christians—special prayers, songs, prayer meetings and sermons. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, most of the programs were held virtually while physical events followed the maximum number of attendance and other official regulations.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh state hoped that Christian Day would be an everyday affair. The Christian minority represents 2.3 per cent of India’s population and believers in rural areas, including Madhya Pradesh, face daily harassment and discrimination.

“Christians are part and parcel of the ethos of this great nation, but unfortunately attempts are being made to project us as foreigners who came with colonial powers,” said the cleric. He pointed out that, “Christians existed here as long as they existed anywhere else and we are as much Indian as followers of other religions. Christianity has been part of Indian culture and civilization before the Portuguese and British came here.”

Shibu Thomas, the founder of Persecution Relief, a nonprofit that helps the Church in India, welcomed this “great initiative.” He said, “This day has broken the barriers of denominational differences and has also given us a hope to stand together as one, shedding all other differences.”

India, one of the most populous nation in the world, is also one of the biggest offenders against religion, according to Pew Research Center, and Open Doors ranked the country at No. 10 on its 2021 World Watch List. To counter the increasing hostility, Christian leaders plan to educate Christians of their Indian cultural roots. Persecution stems from other citizens’ belief that Christianity is from a foreign culture and is a religion opposed to Hinduism.

“Christian missionaries who came from abroad never worked against the interests of our nation, but helped us focus on a better life,” Archbishop Cornelio explained. “This celebration will definitely help us remember our roots and get reconnected and live as better Christians irrespective of our denominational differences.”