10/26/2015, 00.00
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India’s fuel embargo affecting Nepali Christians and the poor as well

by Christopher Sharma
More than half of Nepal’s Christians cannot go to church. Priests and pastors invite the faithful to pray, read the Gospel and engage in missionary outreach in their own neighbourhoods. Fuel shortages make travel hard for poor catechumens. Kathmandu and Beijing are set to sign an agreement today for regular fuel supplies through Nepal’s northern border.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – The unofficial embargo on exports to Nepal, which India imposed on Nepal following the promulgation of its new constitution, is affecting not only Nepalis’ daily life, but that of the Christian community as well.

Some Nepali Catholic priests and Christian pastors spoke to AsiaNews about how fuel shortages are preventing the faithful from coming to church to pray and limiting missionary work among the country’s poor.

As they wait for a political solution to the issue, caused by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hegemonic ambitions, the country’s religious leaders urged their co-religionists to organise prayers and religious services at the local level.

More than a month since the start of the blockade, things in Nepal are getting worse. In recent weeks, gas and fuel supplies from India dropped by 90 per cent. This will negatively impact the country’s growth prospects, already affected by last April’s earthquake.

Basic necessities are in short supply; the transportation system has been disrupted; and schools are closed. The hardships of everyday life are badly affecting relations between communities. Taking part in the country’s most important Hindu festivals is getting harder.

"The Christian community is also facing difficulties,” Rev Nabin Pradhan, pastor at the Church Gyanershor in the capital, told AsiaNews. “The number of visitors is down by 50 per cent and it is not easy to travel. For this reason, the faithful are organising prayer groups in their neighbourhoods."

For his, Father Ignatius, parish priest at Kathmandu’s Cathedral of the Assumption, said, "We have asked Catholics to continue to recite the daily prayers, read the Gospel and work in favour of the neediest by gathering in groups or with their families.”

By and large, "We are not worried about the Catholic community or the Christian population,” he added. Christians “have skills and ideas to deal with fuel or food shortages. But nearly half of those who visit the churches are catechumens from the poorer classes. They are badly affected by the embargo."

"Every year, hundreds of non-believers visit Nepal’s churches because they want to convert,” said Rev CB Gahatraj, general secretary of the National Christian Federation. “These people want to learn about the culture and life of the Christian community before their baptism. But in the current situation, they can be disappointed. We have just run out of fuel for our normal religious activities and missionary work."

Rakes Jenu, a missionary brother who runs a Catholic mission for the poor, cannot get to his workplace. "I really hope the government will solve the problem very soon."

A Nepali delegation is scheduled to meet Chinese officials today. For the past few weeks, Nepal vetted the possibility of asking for Chinese help. Beijing recently announced that it would send a thousand tonnes of fuel as immediate aid.

An agreement, which should be signed today, would include regular fuel supplies through Nepal’s northern border in replacement of existing supply lines through the southern border with India.

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