South Korean nuns arrested for 'illegal conversions' in Pokhara released on bail

The two women religious were arrested while handing out food to the poor in a slum during the pandemic. Sr Gemma Lucia, Sr Martha and two volunteers spent two months in prison. The Sisters of St Paul of Chartres run a facility with 120 children in a rundown area of ​​the city. They still have to appear in court. Their predicament is a worrying sign of the criminalisation of Christian missionaries.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A high court in Nepal granted bail to two nuns and two volunteers from South Korea who were arrested in September on charges of “illegal conversion”.

“They got bail finally, thank you all for praying,” posted Father Silas Bogati, the vicar general of Nepal, on the Couples for Christ-Nepal WhatsApp group, as reported by Matters India.

Sr Gemma Lucia Kim and Sr Martha Park Byongsuk, both members of the Congregation of St. Paul of Chartres, run the St Paul’s Happy Home, a centre in Pokhara, a city 200 kilometres from Kathmandu, that offers accommodation, food, education and healthcare to about 120 slum children.

During the pandemic, the women religious handed out food to local poor, but this very act sparked negative reactions, including the accusation that they wanted to trick people into becoming Christians.

Bishop Paul Simick, apostolic vicar of Nepal, calls the charge “utterly baseless and unjust”.

Sister Byongsuk, 71, began visiting the Pokhara slum in 2009. She usually walks its narrow streets with a stethoscope and a blood pressure device in her backpack.

Before the arrival of the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres, local residents were left to fend for themselves.

The two nuns spent two months in prison after the Pokhara District Court rejected their first bail application. They still have to appear in court to answer the charges.

Catholics in Nepal, who are only 1.4 per cent of the population, view this episode with concern, which they consider an attack on minorities and an attempt to criminalise the activity of Christian missionaries.