Nepali Christians grow, united against the threat of Hindu fundamentalism
Elements in the country’s ruling class want to reintroduce Hinduism as state religion. An anti-conversion bill is before parliament. It would lead back to underground baptisms. AsiaNews speaks to the Jesuit superior who says, faced with difficulties, we are “true disciples of Christ.”
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – In the past few years, fundamentalism has quickly grown in Nepal. Elements in the ruling class, especially from the old guard, want to make Hinduism the state religion, “like before 1990”. Fr Lawrence Maniyar, Jesuit regional superior, spoke to AsiaNews about it. In his view, threats to religious freedom have “brought together the different Church leaders”.

The clergyman confirms that conversions have taken place and that the community is in constant growth thanks to adults who are baptised “during public worship”. However, if restrictions are introduced in religious matters, it will mean a return to “underground baptisms”, he warned.

Yet, despite the dangers and threats, Fr Lawrence sees the current situation as a “blessing” because it allows Christians to be “true disciples of Christ”. In other nations, “things are far worse.”

Here is Fr Lawrence’s interview with AsiaNews:

How do you see the situation of Catholics after the fall of monarchy?

The Catholic Church, like other Christian Churches, now faces more challenges than before. Hindu fundamentalism has been growing rapidly for the last four years and there is a great effort to make it the state religion, like before 1990. We are now fighting against this at different levels, in different ways. Politicians made a decision in parliament four years ago that Nepal must be a secular country; however, the mindset has not changed and the old guard wants to bring Hinduism back in a subtle way. Even though there is a great revival in Hindu fundamentalism, the present situation has brought together the different church leaders.

Are there any conversions?

When I first came to Nepal in January 1976, there were three lay people at Sunday Mass, two Americans and one Indian. Now, after 60 years of Church presence, there are about 8,000 Catholics. There are conversions, a small number to the Catholic Church and a huge number to Protestant Churches. This is what has prompted the government to come up with the anti-conversion bill. In the last four years, adult baptisms have taken place during public worship, but I am not sure that this will continue for long. If the anti-conversion bill is passed in parliament, we will have to go back to underground baptisms.

What is the role of the Catholic community in Nepali society?

Through the Jesuit Fathers, the Catholic community came to Nepal in May 1951 on the invitation of the Government of Nepal of the time. Legally, we are here to educate Nepali children. Since the old constitution allowed us to believe and “practice one's own religion” we had no problem of taking care of the spiritual and sacramental needs of the Catholic community. We concentrate on the education of Nepali children and the social welfare of poor people in Nepal. The Catholic Church runs 32 educational institutions and more than 60 social work centres.

Is Nepal a country where religious freedom is respected?

Contrary to what many people think in the world, in my opinion, Hinduism has never been tolerant towards other religions. When Hinduism is under threat, the true nature of Hinduism comes out. The present government of Nepal is trying to introduce a bill to ban conversions because many people have converted to Christianity in the past 20 years. Many people in the government of Nepal believe that “nobody has the right to change his or her religion”. However, Christians are openly saying that they “are not Christians because our parents are Christians. We are not Hindus just because the State says so. We are Christians because we choose to be Christians.”

What work do the Jesuits perform in the country, especially in the educational field?

Our schools and college are the most sought-after educational institutions in the country right now. Besides the educational apostolate, we have four parishes, three social work centres (for orphans, drug rehabilitation programme and a home for the blind), one school for the mentally challenged, and eight mobile clinics. All these things are done by just 25 Fathers and Brothers. Religious Sisters and lay people are a great help for us in these works of apostolate.

What can you say about the Jesuits’ missionary work in Nepal?

At times, I feel that the situation is a blessing because we have a greater chance to be true witnesses to the Gospel. Non-Christians can see the way we live and work and know that we are disciples of Christ. Despite the restrictions, I am happy of the situation in our country. There are many nations in the world where things are far worse. Let us thank God and pray that it does not get worse.