10/19/2009, 00.00
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Cardinal Gracias: The Church wants to serve India, freedom of conversion is a right

by Nirmala Carvalho
Closing the Indian Churches Missionary Congress, the archbishop of Mumbai invites Catholics to renew their faith. While radically rejecting forced conversions he firmly defends freedom of religion: "No government can enter my soul or imprison my conscience saying 'you can not change religion'."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "We only want to serve, to do what Jesus told us to, living out the Beatitudes, loving and serving everyone and making the world a better place."  


These were the words with which the card. Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, concluded the work of the First Missionary Congress of the Indian Church: they are a mandate for the more than 18 million Catholics in the country and a renewed message of fraternity to "brothers and sisters of other religions." But they are also a demand for religious freedom which encompasses conversion, in a world such as India where Hindu nationalism sees every change of religion as "proselytism".


After four days of work, culminating with the celebration of World Mission Sunday October 18th, the Prabhu Yesu Mahotsav closed its doors (photo). "It was not just another seminar, a training course or a conference," said the cardinal of Mumbai to the over 1500 participants, but an event that "makes us go home with the urgency to testify and be changed by Jesus”.  


The delegates of the 160 dioceses of India participated in joint moments of prayer and reflection, held group sessions divided by regions or areas of activities "spending four days in the presence of the Lord - said card. Gracias – and listening to the story of Jesus' presence in the Church in India”.  


"The Church is not a political party - he said - [it] is not seeking power and prestige, or to increase the number of the faithful to exert more influence." The title of the Congress, "Let your light shine" is an invitation to become "more and more like Christ," "to be messengers of Jesus, we ourselves become its message with our lives," reiterated the cardinal.  


In the Mumbai days the theme of conversion was often addressed in speeches and testimonies of laymen and priests. The personal conversion of each believer, even before those of non-Christians. On the last day the card. Gracias also wanted to talk about the "fear of conversions" that hovers in over Indian society, an issue that the Congress did not intend to address specifically.


For the "Governments of those States wishing to introduce anti-conversion laws", the Archbishop of Mumbai said that "forced conversions", which are often blamed on Christians, "are meaningless" for the Church. Not only because "the documents of Vatican Council speak clearly against them, but mainly because "for Christians conversion is primarily a transformation of heart". Not by chance, noted the prelate, "the church imposes a long period of catechumenate to test the sincerity of those seeking baptism".  


Freedom of religion and conversion is "a human right," insisted the card. Gracias, "a sacred right in our Constitution." He added: "No civil authority has the right to enter the shrine which is the conscience of every single person, let alone to decide what a conscience should say. No government can come into my soul and stop my conscience saying 'you can not change your religion'".


The cardinal then had moving words for the father of the Church in Orissa. Speaking to Msgr. Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, he said: "We are with you, the Church in India is with you. We find true inspiration in the events of your martyrdom. To the governors of Orissa, and not only them, we say: do not forget your constitutional duty to protect minorities: Christians, Muslims and even Hindus where they are minority. It is your duty and the reason why you were elected”.


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