08/25/2011, 00.00
NEPAL
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New anti-conversion law causing fears, forcing Church to stop catechism course

by Kalpit Parajuli
Classes for new catechumens from other religions are postponed to further notice. Nepal’s Catholic Church was not officially represented at World Youth Day in Madrid because of the country’s tense situation.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Nepal’s Catholic Church has postponed without explanations the catechism course it had planned for people from other religions. It was set to begin shortly. Local sources say the Church took this step back because of the proposed new penal code, which bans conversion from one religion to another.

Because of tensions in the country, the Nepali Church has also stayed away from World Youth Day. “No youth officially represented the Church of Nepal in Madrid because of Nepal’s transitional situation,” said Chirendra Satyal, a Catholic media officer and journalist. “If anyone did attend, it was as an individual and not as a representative of Nepali Catholic youth.”

The establishment of a secular state in 2006 gave the Catholic Church the opportunity to perform baptism and celebrate religious feast days out in the open. Greater religious freedom and the possibility to conduct public ceremonies led to more conversions.

Each year, about 25 people are baptised. On 15 August, 30 children from the Diocese of Kathmandu had their first communion.

According to official figures, each Sunday about 300 non-Christians, especially young Hindus and Buddhists, take part in Mass in Kathmandu’s Cathedral of the Assumption. They cannot receive the communion but, at the end of the service, the presiding priest blesses them and gives them flowers as a token of welcome.

Anyone who so desires can register for catechism after Mass. If catechumens want, they can be baptised after completing the programme (three years for non-Christians). Before though, Catholic religious authorities must closely examine their request. In case of minors, the parents’ consent must be obtained.

However, under the proposed new penal code that is currently before parliament, the Catholic Church and other minority confessions might end up going underground again, like during the times of the Hindu monarchy.

For the code, any kind of communication about one’s faith to another person constitutes a form of proselytising. Penalties include fines of up to US$ 700 and five years in jail.

If the culprit is a foreigner, he or she can be expelled from the country immediately.
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