10/20/2011, 00.00
NEPAL
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Nepalese Catholics grow. A challenge to the anti-conversion laws

by Kalpit Parajuli
In 5 years the number has increased by 4 thousand. Boom in enrollments for catechism. Number of Hindus and Buddhists attending the Saturday mass equals the number of Catholics.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Catholics in Nepal are growing, despite the anti-conversion laws proposed in parliament. According to the latest estimates there are over 10 thousand, 4 thousand more than in 2006, the year of the fall of the monarchy and the proclamation of a secular state.

AsiaNews sources emphasize that the Hindus and Buddhists eager to learn about Christianity, and for this reason attend Saturday mass feast day fo nepali people, they now even match the number of Catholics in attendance. Enrolment in catechism classes for the years 2011 - 2012 have exceeded the places available. This is a challenge to conservative politicians who have recently proposed a series of laws in parliament to put a halt on conversions. They dismiss any act of communicating one’s faith to another person as proselytism and more serious cases considered carry a penalty of 5 years in prison.

Bhim Rai, a catechist at the Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption in Kathmandu, said that this year the number of young people and adults of other faiths has increased. "The students - he says - come from all social classes. Most of them are of Hindu tradition, but there are many Buddhists. At Easter 2012 25 young catechumens will be baptized. "

The Catholic Church in Nepal, however, is cautious regarding the phenomenon and verifies the authenticity of each request, without giving in to pressure from those who want a less rigid and more perfunctory acceptance.

To date, those wishing to convert must follow a catechism course of three years. Minors need the consent of the family. This is to help the catechumens in the path of faith, through the verification of their behavior and real understanding of the precepts of Christianity. For the Church, proper formation is vital in recognizing the seeds of faith and supporting those who are real converts to receive baptism.

Fr. Robin Rai, pastor of the Cathedral of Kathmandu, said that the Church accepts the conversion only if based on a free and informed decision. Those who seek baptism must first understand its meaning. He adds that "in order to operate in the country, Catholics must also abide by laws restricting proselytism and the ability to change beliefs." Compliance with these rules is essential to avoid misunderstandings and maintain harmony with other religious groups.

Between 2007 and 2009 the Catholic community suffered several attacks and threats from Hindu extremists. The worst were the May 23, 2009, attack on the cathedral in Kathmandu which killed three people, and the murder of Fr John Prakash, rector of the Salesian School Sirsya (Morang), killed by unknown assailants in July 2007.

According to Fr. Rai, the situation has improved in recent years. The priests feel safer, although there are still cases of threats from Hindu fanatics. "I'm not scared - he says - I feel safe here and will continue to work for the Church."

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