05/24/2006, 00.00
Send to a friend

Card. Dias tells fundamentalists: "Conversion is between man and God"

In an official document, the cardinal took advantage of a controversy sparked by the BJP – when it criticized the pope – to counter, in four points, the accusations that for years have been leveled against the Catholic Church, a "small minority that works for the good of India, which it is proud to be a part of".

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Personal conversion is a matter "between God and the individual concerned" as well as a "right enshrined in the Constitution of India, that belongs to every man, woman and child in our country". This was the response given by the archbishop of Mumbai, and new prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Ivan Dias, to criticisms leveled by nationalist political groups about the speech of Benedict XVI on 18 May, when he drew attention to disturbing signs of religious intolerance" in some Indian states.

These words, spoken on occasion of the presentation of letters of credentials by the new Indian ambassador to the Holy See, prompted Rajnath Singh, chairman of the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP – India's largest political party with nationalist-fundamentalist tendencies] to respond to the pope. He defined the pontiff's comments as "unjustified", saying "activities that really go against the secular nature of the nation are conversions, not the laws that prohibit them."

In Madhya Pradesh, a state dominated by the BJP, Hindu fundamentalist groups burned photos of Benedict XVI on Saturday 20 May, to protest his "interference in India's internal affairs". "The protests of the BJP are only a political excuse that allows integralists to keep their volunteers busy," said Fr Anand Muttungal, spokesman for the Indian Catholic Bishops' Conference (CBCI).

The analysis of the cardinal is more articulate. In a document released on the official website of the CBCI, he analyses the Catholic presence in India in four points and concludes that the "physical and verbal abuses" launched by these groups are "totally unjustified and a reason for shame".

We publish below the complete analysis by Cardinal Dias:

During the audience which His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI recently granted to India's new Ambassador to the Holy See, he made the following observation on religious freedom in India: "The disturbing signs of religious intolerance which have troubled some regions of the nation, including the reprehensible attempt to legislate clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right of religious freedom, must be firmly rejected as not only unconstitutional, but also as contrary to the highest ideals of India's founding fathers, who believed in a nation of peaceful coexistence and mutual tolerance between different religions and ethnic groups".

In the wake of some criticism to this statement by a tiny politico-religious fraction (unrepresentative) of the religious majority in India, the following points are worth noting:

1)         Conversion from one religious belief to another is a strictly personal matter between God and the individual concerned. The freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate one's religion have been enshrined in the Constitution of India. This is but an affirmation of the human rights to which every man, woman and child is entitled. Conversions, however, should never be induced by force, fraud or allurement: the Catholic Church considers all such conversions as invalid. But, any opposition by law or de facto to a genuine conversion, besides being a grave violation of the code of human rights and of the spirit of the Indian Constitution, is, above all, an unwarranted interference in God's unique competence in the matter. It is, therefore, imperative that the said group be asked to produce factual evidence proving a single forced conversion to the Catholic Church in India as a sign of its bonafide intentions. All allegations made in this regard in the past have proved to be utterly false, like the one made last year by a Government education officer against a Catholic school in Nashik, when he was refused a favour he was demanding very arrogantly. When questioned by his superiors at Mantralaya and asked to produce proof of his complaint, he was quick to retract his accusation and he publicly apologised for his haughty behaviour.

2)         Christians in India number only 2.3% of the total population: of these 1.8% belong to the Catholic Church. Despite being such a tiny minority, the Christians cater to 20% of all the primary education in the country, 10% of the literacy and community health care programmes, 25% of the care of the orphans and widows, and 30% of the care of the handicapped, lepers and AIDS patients. The vast majority of those who avail themselves of these institutions belong to faiths other than Christian. These institutions are much appreciated by Hindus, Muslims and persons of other faiths or of no faith at all, who admire the Christians for their selfless service of the suffering, the marginalised, the illiterate and the downtrodden.  The aforementioned group would do well to examine how much it is doing in favour of the educational, health and social uplift of the Indian people, and should not take it amiss that some members of the religious majority in India (and of other communities as well) feel attracted to follow a religion whose founder, Our Lord Jesus Christ, told His followers that He had come, not to be served, but to serve and who commanded them to love one another as He had loved them. The group can also ask itself why so many persons of other faiths, including even government officials, insist on their children being educated in so-called "convent schools" or on admitting their sick and aged relatives in Catholic hospitals or homes.

3)         The same group could also make a survey as to how many of the millions of persons who have passed through the Catholic educational, health or social institutions in India from time immemorial - and these include, interalia, renowned judges and advocates, medical practitioners and nurses, political and religious leaders, and even some prominent members of the group itself! - have been converted or were asked to convert to Christianity. They would thus find the reason why, after two thousand years of Christian presence in India and the zealous activity of its members in favour of the local population, the number of Christians remains exceedingly small in the country.

4)         If the said group is unable to answer these points satisfactorily, it would do well to re-consider its profoundly biased attitude towards the Christian community, and be ashamed of the attacks, both verbal and physical, which some of its members make on Christian personalities and institutions in several States in the country. Such a behaviour is indeed unbecoming of civilised persons and seriously endangers the secular and democratic fabric of our beloved Motherland, to which Catholics in India are proud to belong as law-abiding citizens.

Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
BJP leader argues with pope: "religious intolerance charge unjustified"
Pope talks about the Middle East, the Holy Land and the food crisis with Bush
Christian groups against approval of Rajasthan anti-conversion bill
Government "should publish data on conversions and anti-Christian attacks"
India: Hindu extremists attack a Christian gathering


Subscribe to Asia News updates or change your preferences

Subscribe now
“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”