01/25/2008, 00.00
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In Godavari many have converted to Catholicism since Nepal became a secular state

by Kalpit Parajuli
With the Nepali state going secular, tens of people have felt free to convert to the Catholic faith. Here a 12-year-old girl and a 55-year-old woman tell their stories. In Godavari a new church is needed to replace the existing one, already too small for the growing congregation.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Since Nepal became a secular state more than 200 residents of Godavari, a town just 15 kilometres north of Kathmandu, have been baptised after two years of catechism. With the Nepali state abandoning Hinduism as its state religion, freedom of religion has become the law of the land.

In Godavari, the number of worshipers attending the small local church has increased manifold. Built to accommodate 200 people at most, its regulars rarely exceeded 50 until three years ago. Now it is really too small for everyone.

“When we started this church we had about 50 worshippers. Now we have 300, and some have to stand,” Fr Perumana Pius, pro-apostolic prefect for Nepal and parish priest in Godavari, told AsiaNews.

“We have good relations with all the residents, whatever their faith. Hindu priests and Buddhist monks invite me to celebrate their religious festivities and we exchange greetings,” he explained. “And these good relations have favoured religious freedom.”

Rita Rai, 12, said that she “had had deep faith in Jesus for a long time and had been reading and meditating on the Bible and other Catholic books.” However, she dared not say it.

“I was afraid to say that I was Catholic. Now that the state is secular my Hindu family allowed me to become Catholic.”

Kali Magar, 55, had no such fears.

“I have always had many illnesses, like paralysis and asthma. Since I started going to church and regularly attend Mass I have always felt better. So I converted to the Catholic faith.”

Ten metres from the church stands a Hindu temple. The Hindu priest, Rajeshwor Sapkota, said that “all religions believe in God. We pray our God and others pray theirs. There are no problems. Everyone one is free to believe in their God. Some Hindus have converted to Christianity and Christians can become Hindu.”

Many new Catholics come from ethnic minorities like the Janajati or are Dalit or members of other lower Hindu castes; even so their conversion was gradual.

Now that the church draws large crowds  it will be rebuilt; otherwise many worshippers will have to pray standing at the door or at entrance.

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