09/29/2008, 00.00
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Mumbai bishop explains why Hindus attack Christians

by Agnelo Gracias
Mgr Agnelo Gracias, auxiliary bishop of Bombay, looks at anti-Christian violence in Orissa and other Indian states. Separating fact from fiction, he explains why claims that Christians engage in forced conversions are lies, asserts that Christians have a right to evangelise and that anyone has the right to convert, and shows that there is no religion as missionary as Hinduism.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) –Let us look at the phenomenon of the recent attacks against Christians. We shall examine first the alleged reasons for these attacks, and then go into what are perhaps the real causes for the attacks. And since conversion is one of the main reasons brought forward, in a third part, we shall examine the issue of conversion.

I. Alleged Reasons for the Attacks:

1. Christians are being attacked because of the killing of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati in Orissa. Investigations point to the involvement of Maoists in the killing.

In fact, the killing was condemned by Christians. Leaders like Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay, condemned the killing in his press conference. The official Catholic body of the Church, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) also condemned it in its press release. The Chairman of the Orissa Catholic Bishops Conference, Bishop Thomas Thiruthalil, condemned it. If I may quote the words of his press conference, "The Catholic Community in Orissa was once again terribly shocked by the brutal murder of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati and four of his close associates... We, the Catholic community in Orissa deeply condemn the barbarous incident…"

In spite of this, the VHP and Bajrang Dal whipped up the mobs to attack Christians. They wanted a pretext to launch their attacks.

2. Christians are being attacked because of a pamphlet denigrating Hinduism supposedly published by the New Life Movement.

If such a pamphlet has actually been circulated, one must first investigate who published it and punish the evil-doers, not use it as a pretext to attack Christians indiscriminately. New Life has denied that they published any such pamphlet. It is extremely unlikely that any Christian group would have engaged in such a foolhardy act at this point of time. For all one knows, the pamphlet might have been published by some anti- Christian group themselves to stoke up communal flames!

There is a common misapprehension that Christians disdain other religions. The stand of the Catholic Church on this point is clear. With regard to other religions, Vatican Council II spelt out the Church's position very clearly: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men". Therefore the Church exhorts Catholics "prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, to acknowledge, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these people, as well as the values in their society and culture” (Nostra Aetate, art 2).

3. Christians are being attacked because of conversions; the bogey of conversions is constantly used by the VHP and Bajrang Dal. Let us look at this issue squarely:

If there were so many thousands of conversions, as claimed, the number of Christians should have skyrocketed. The opposite is true. The Census of India shows a decline in the percentage of the Christian population of India vis-à-vis the total population: 2.6 per cent in 1971; 2.44 per cent in 1981 and 2.32 per cent in 1991, 2.3 per cent in 2001! This decline continues.

Forced conversions? The Catholic Church is totally against the use of any form of force. Vatican Council II has declared: "The Church strictly forbids forcing anyone to embrace the Faith, or alluring or enticing people by worrisome wiles. By the same token, she also strongly insists on this right that no one should be frightened away from the Faith by unjust vexations on the part of others” (Ad Gentes, art 13).

Canon Law is explicit: "No one is ever permitted to coerce persons to embrace the Catholic faith against their conscience" (Canon 748.2).

Conversion by allurements? This is an oft-repeated lie. Blessed Mother Teresa wrote in 1979: “Do not belittle the Hindu religion saying that our Hindu poor people give up their religion for 'a plate of rice'. To my knowledge, I have not seen this being done, though we feed thousands of poor of all castes and creeds, though thousands have died in our hands, beautifully in peace with God.”

The opposite is true in India: those who become Christians forfeit the benefits given by the Government, the reservation quota. In spite of losing so much economically, the dalits still embrace Christianity!

Several States have passed anti-conversion bills. The first was Arunachal Pradesh in 1978, Gujarat in 2003, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in 2006, Himachal Pradesh in 2007. There exist very stringent punishments for conversions by force or allurement. Till today, not a single case of such conversion has been brought forward. We have publicly challenged the governments to produce evidence of any such cases.

The fact that the governments have not been able to bring up even one case, is an indication that this charge is a fabrication. The very fact that these Hindus vie to send their children to our schools for education is a sign that they do not really worry about conversion. They should have been worried that we would influence these tender minds. Quite the contrary! They are begging us for admission.

II. What then is the real reason for antagonism towards Christianity and to our work amongst the tribals and dalits?

1. The answer is Socio-economic. With education, these tribals and dalits will no longer allow themselves to be exploited. The economic apple-cart will be overturned. Let's not forget that the RSS is made up of the upper castes which have a vested interest in retaining the status quo.

2. According to the teaching and example of Jesus, love of God and love of fellow humans are inseparable, like two sides of one coin: "For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 Jn, 4:20). Jesus described his mission in the following terms: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Lk, 4:18).

When Jesus went about healing the sick, mixing with outcasts and assisting the poor, these works were not allurements, but the concrete realisation of the "Kingdom of God" which he preached: a kingdom of love and justice. So also, the humanitarian activities of the Catholic Church are by no means an allurement. She is walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

Rather than be apologetic, we can be proud of the service we render to our country, especially to the poorest and most downtrodden. I wish some of the fundamentalists who are attacking us would visit Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying and the Destitute in Sankli Street etc. Count how many of them are Christians and how many have been baptised. Visit Niramay Niketan in Trombay (a northern neighbour of Mumbai), the home looking after the AIDS-afflicted! An HIV-positive man who needed to have his legs amputated was turned down by almost 100 doctors, before one finally accepted to do the operation. He and many others like him are being lovingly cared for by the Sisters. These fundamentalists would not have come close to these patients, much less touch them. For them, they are human refuse to be consigned to the dustbin. For us, they are not Christians, Hindus or Muslims, but human beings to be loved and cared for.

III. Issue of Conversion

1. None of us is born a Christian or a Hindu or a Muslim – nothing in our blood that marks us out as belonging to a particular religion. Rather we are born within a religion – or better, in a religious community. People generally remain in the religion in which they were born. However, some exercise their freedom to embrace the religion which best satisfies their quest for God and for fulfillment. In matters religious, no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his/her beliefs; nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his/her beliefs. This is what "conversion" is all about.  It is not so much a religious right, as a human right.

2. We do not have a right to convert others. We have a right to speak about our beliefs and our religion – the right to propagate our faith. This is guaranteed by the Constitution. The other has a right to be converted, if he chooses to.

3. Today, more than ever before, we live in a 'global village', an open society where ideas freely cross all boundaries. Just as there will always be people who change their ideology or political affiliation, so there will always be people who change their religion. If I can change my political party, why cannot I change my religion?

In conclusion, we can point out that the oft-made claim that Hinduism does not make converts, nor does it send missionaries, is not really true. No country in ancient times sent out more missionaries than India to propagate (Buddhist and Hindu) religion: from Sri Lanka to China! And at present, there are more Hindu missionaries in India and in the West, than Christian missionaries in India. Temples abound and continue to be built in Europe and America.

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See also
Maharashtra, 6,000 Christians reconverted to Hinduism by extremist groups
Vigil for nascent life held in India as well
Hindu extremists slander the Church but send their children to Church-run schools
Indian religious leaders ask government to decriminalise but not legalise homosexuality
Widow of murdered missionary receives award


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