02/12/2008, 00.00
INDIA
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Andhra Pradesh to provide financial aid to Christian pilgrims going to Holy Land

by Nirmala Carvalho
Opposition slams proposal. Catholic leaders are grateful but note there are more pressing issues to deal with like financial assistance to schools, which has not been given yet.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The governor of Andhra Pradesh, Narayan Dutt Tiwari, announced yesterday on the opening day of the budget session that the state government will provide financial assistance to Christians who wish to go on pilgrimage to holy sites in Israel as it does for Muslims who go on Hajj. Christian and Muslim minorities will also profit from benefits extended as part of Kalyanamasthu or mass wedding ceremony that allow poor Hindus to get married thanks to state financial aid.

The state’s opposition parties object to the proposal arguing that as a Christian Tiwari is trying to get the support of minorities ahead of next year’s general and assembly elections.

In his own defence the governor said that few Indian Christians would travel to Israel anyway because it is a war zone.

Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party countered by saying that the state government refuses to fund pilgrims who want to go to the Hindu shrine in Mansarovar.

For Fr Anthoniraj Thumma, executive secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches, the proposal “meets an old Christian demand, but the bill on the state budget says nothing about public funding for our schools, which has been blocked for the past ten years.”

A petition in favour of such funds was officially made this year to the chief minister by a delegation of bishops and priests.

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