08/04/2005, 00.00
INDIA
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Praying and fasting to counter anti-Christian violence

by Nirmala Carvalho
Praying is the best weapon against rising persecution in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, says the Archbishop of Bhopal. Catholic Tribals attend the prayer meeting in great numbers.

Bhopal (AsiaNews) – People gathered for a prayer meeting to counter "the deliberate and rising tide of anti-Christian violence" in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, Indian states ruled by the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In both places, local legislatures have adopted anti-conversion laws.

In an interview with AsiaNews, Mgr Pascal Topno, Archbishop of Bhopal, where the day of prayer was held two days ago, said that "all Christians from the two states came together to fast and pray as a result of the atrocities inflicted on our community by the anti-conversion law".

"The Council of Bishops of Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh chose a day of prayer and fasting as the best means to counter the increasing persecution we are now facing," he noted.

As one of the promoters of the event, Archbishop Topno explained that Christians from all denominations arrived in Bhopal from both states, including Protestant ministers and Catholic bishops following Eastern rites.

"We prayed for those who persecute us and for the enemies of Christianity, whose lives have not been enlightened by the 'Light of Truth'," he said. "Many of the participants have been themselves victims of anti-Christian violence perpetrated by Hindu fundamentalists. As spiritual guides we called on the faithful to forgive their attackers, explaining that prayer and forgiveness are the response to injustice."

"The plight of [Christian] Tribals is pathetic," the prelate lamented. They are poor, unemployed and "at the mercy of rightwing extremists who try to reconvert them to Hinduism using intimidation and threats". The presence of many Catholic Tribals at the event is good though, "a sign, an indication that is encouraging and makes us more confident".

Tribals from Jhabua—where a catholic priest was charged and arrested for alleged forced conversions—were among those who came.

Local police provided security but were unprepared for the lack of fiery speeches or inflammatory remarks. "They were surprised," Archbishop Topno said, "by the atmosphere of serenity and spirituality of the day".

For him, August 2 was a "marvellous ecumenical experience". He noted that "despite the monsoon rains, people came [. . .] from far and wide to express their solidarity and voice their concern over the escalating anti-Christian violence".

Archbishop Topno said that he prepared a memorandum for Madhya Pradesh's Chief Minister, Babulal Gaur, in which it is made plain and clear that Christians are guilty only of bearing witness of Christ, not of forcing anyone to convert to their religion.

The document also denounces the conditions of discrimination and threat in which Christian Tribals live.

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