Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Some of the statements of the Dalai Lama against conversions and the work of the missionaries are causing confusion and opposition among many Christians. In an attempt to condemn bad proselytism, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism said he was against conversions and changing from one religion to another. In this way, his position is likely to be seen as support for the policies of the radical Hindu groups and the anti-conversion laws that exist in some Indian states. Card. Oswald Gracias, who personally knows the Dalai Lama, comments to AsiaNews that the freedom to change religion is a fundamental human right and can not be obscured for any convenience.
On 23 January, the Dalai Lama visited the St Xavier's College in Mumbai, at the invitation of the Dean, Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas. Before students and professors, he gave a speech on "Ethics: educating the heart and mind."
During his speech, he touched on the issue of conversions. "I do not like conversions," he said, because they have a negative impact [on society]. "The two parties, that of the converted and the community abandoned by him, begin to fight."
As an example of the negative influence produced by conversions, he cited the violence against the Australian missionary Graham Staines, burnt alive in his car with his two sons, and the violence and destruction still ongoing in Orissa and Karnataka. The Dalai Lama has, however, reiterated that religious freedom - the freedom to practice ones faith - should be guaranteed to all.
This is not the first time that the Dalai Lama has spoken against conversions. Last November, at Christ University in Bangalore, he repeated a similar concept: on the one hand, he spoke of religious freedom and on the other of the need to avoid conversions: "" Any religion - he said - should be limited to service-oriented interventions, such as providing people education and health care, not indulging in conversions. "
It is likely that the Buddhist leader just want to warn against a proselytism that manipulates people, promises economic benefits, or leads people to change their religion through threats. But, according to many Catholics in Mumbai, his statments are similar to those of Hindu extremists who, behind the specter of proselytizing, condemn all conversions. Already in several states of India, there are anti-conversion laws that require state verification. But these laws have in fact become a way to curb conversions (usually from Hinduism to Christianity or Islam, the reverse is not a problem).
These Catholics are saddened that the Dalai Lama has cited as an example of "proselytism" the case of the missionary Graham Staines. It should be noted that the meeting with the Buddhist leader happened on the 14th anniversary of the murder of the Australian missionary, which took place in Manoharpur (Orissa).
Fr. Errol Fernandez, SJ, dean of econiomics at the College, expressed his doubts: "If he meant to say that the murder of Graham Staines is the result of conversions [proselytizing], it would be too simplistic. Judge Wadhwa who led the committee, appointed by the then Minister LK Advani to investigate the killing of Staines, clearly showed that the missionary was not involved in any proselytizing. "
Last December, Fr. Fernandez preached a retreat for priests in Kandhamal, Orissa. "Having seen first hand the things in Orissa - he tells AsiaNews - I can say that conversions are only rarely the cause of violence and chaos. The real reasons lie in the fact that the Dalits and other poor social classes are educated to fight for their rights and their freedom from all forms of oppression. This has repercussions on those who want them to remain as they are, the bottom rung of the social economic and religious ladder,. "
Even Card. Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops, has spoken on the issue, noting that "the Christian point of view we can not but proclaim the Good News" and thus do mission.
"I met the Dalai Lama on several occasions - he tells AsiaNews - and I think he is a sincere person. Perhaps, the Dalai means to say, do not rock the boat, do not create problems for yourselves and for others, but this implies compromising on a very sacred principle and Absolutely, we cannot compromise on a very sacred principle, and we certainly cannot compromise for the sake of convenience"
"The Constitution - he adds - guarantees every Indian religious freedom, the right to preach, practice and propagate their religion and the right to convert."
"From the international point of view, religious freedom is a basic human right and it implies the right to decide how people want to express their faith."
"While I have no doubts about the sincerity of the Dalai Lama .this is something we cannot accept, We differ on this point and it is my concern We differ on this point, we just cannot accept and we cannot compromise on principles for the sake of convenience" .