06/30/2006, 00.00
INDIA
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Sisters of Mother Teresa imprisoned on proselytism charges

by Nirmala Carvalho

The four Missionaries of Charity were harassed and imprisoned on proselytism and conversion charges. The archbishop of Hyderabad told AsiaNews about their complete dedication to the poor and called for an in-depth inquiry into what happened.

Hyderabad (AsiaNews) – A crowd of Hindu fanatics set upon four sisters of Mother Teresa in a hospital and had them arrested by local police on charges of proselytism and conversion of the sick.

Archbishop Oswald Gracias, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India told AsiaNews: "This tragic attack on the nuns of Mother Teresa is shocking and has to be condemned in the strongest terms. This is all the more so because these nuns are known all over the world for their altruism and dedication to the poor."

The four Missionaries of Charity were attacked on 25 June as they went about their weekly visit in a hospital in the city of Tirupati – a Hindu pilgrimage place – in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. The four sisters, all aged around 35, were in the government hospital of Ruia, where they usually spend time with patients who are terminally with AIDS. A group of around 50 fanatics of the Hindu Dharma Parirakshana Samithi [group for the defence of the Hindu religion] broke into the hospital, blocked the four sisters and accused them of trying to convert patients.

The crowd swelled rapidly and soon there were around 300 people. They forced the sisters to remain in the hospital until 8.30pm. Then police officials arrived and took the women to the local police station.

Mgr Marampudi Joji, Metropolitan Archbishop of Hyderabad, told AsiaNews: "The sisters have official government permission to do visit the wards, which they have done every Sunday for the past 20 years. The sisters, in agreement with the hospital administration, have welcomed these dying patients into their homes, where they can die surrounded by dignity and love."

He continued: "As soon as I heard the news, I immediately called the Chief Minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, and the Director General of Police, S. Sen, both of them Christians. I rushed to the prison, where I managed to get the sisters released at 10.30 pm.

"The nuns were terrified and trembling because of the climate of intimidation all around the police station. The police even defied a Supreme Court directive that women should not be taken into custody between sunset and sunrise."

This morning, the archbishop lead a delegation of the sisters, accompanied by a representative from the Mother House in Kolkata, to the Police Chief, to show him their permits to visit the sick. Despite all the assurances received, Mgr Joji said a rally was staged in the city streets by Hindutva ideology adherents to demand that the nuns be arrested for "propagation of faith and conversions". Mgr Joji said: "In Andhra Pradesh, there is no anti conversion law, and Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees everyone the right and the freedom to preach, practice and propagate her religion. As Christians, we forgive our aggressors, but as Metropolitan Archbishop, I have the duty to protect the faith and its witnesses. Hence, I have appealed to our Chief Minister to investigate this atrocity and to arrest the culprits."

Mgr Gracias said: "The allegations of conversions are utterly baseless and unjust. This act reveals not only bigotry on the part of those who committed it, but also ignorance of the needs of the poor." He added: "I emphatically state that no religious congregation indulges in conversions and Mother Teresa sisters are known to be doing exclusively social work, hence there is absolutely no room for misunderstanding on this point."

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