02/12/2010, 00.00
BHUTAN
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The king of Bhutan claims to be "father of the Christians," but does not build churches

by Nirmala Carvalho
These days the Christian organization Open Doors has classified the small Himalayan kingdom 12th out of 50 countries where religious freedom is violated. Despite the marriage of the king’s sister with the nephew of a Jesuit priest and the guarantee of religious freedom around 6 thousand Christians are still forbidden to pray in public. Former member of the government: "There is still a fear that Christianity will divide society and create tension."

Timphu (AsiaNews) - The king of Bhutan Jigme Khesar author of democratic reform in the country for years has claimed to be the "father of Christians." In 2005 he married his fifth sister with the nephew of Fr Kinley, a Canadian Jesuit who helped the government to realign the education system. Nevertheless the construction of religious buildings other than Buddhists ones is still prohibited in  the country remains. Recently the Christian organization Open Doors   has in fact classified Bhutan 12th in a list of 50 countries in the world where religious freedom is violated.

Karma Dupto exiled leader of the Druk National Congress, speaking from India said: "In Bhutan, the transition to democracy has been done on paper and the constitution guarantees freedom of religion. According to the Religious organizations Acts of 2007, no one can force a person to change their faith. " But the leader stresses that authorities and the population have not yet learned the meaning of democracy. That is why religions and cultures other than Buddhism are still looked upon with suspicion.

The monarchy of Bhutan is a small one,  680 thousand people caught between the two giants India and China. Until 2006 it was ruled by a theocratic regime of Buddhist religion. In 1979 the then King Jigme Singye Wangchuck forbade the practice of religions other than Buddhism and Hinduism. This prevented the 6 thousand Christians living in the country, mostly Protestant, from building churches and worship, leading to the creation of an underground community. In 2008, the ascent to the throne of 28-year old King Jigme Khesar brought new hopes of opening in the country, with the creation of a new constitution providing for freedom of faith for all Bhutanese, after reporting to authorities. But proselytism, the publication of Bibles, the building of Christian schools and the entrance of religious remain prohibited. To date, the Jesuit Father Kinley is the only resident priest in the country.

"There's a reason why Christians are not tolerated in the country - says a former member of the government - there is indeed a fear that Christianity will divide society and create tension." Thus, while the country opens up to modern building, pubs and discos, it still hampers the building of churches.

The former politician cites two cases of forced conversions which occurred in 2009, but were condemned by representatives of the local Christian community. "This – he adds - has led to various misunderstandings and people think that Christians attract the faithful with money and the government always looks with suspicion on those who convert."

According to the pastor of an underground community, most of the Bhutanese faithful have no access to education and live in desperate economic conditions. " Christians – he says – are only allowed to pray in case of illness and only in their homes. This mutual mistrust between Buddhists and Christians, derives from lack of religious freedom. "

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