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Rediff.com  » News » Cardinal Dias explains Pope's remarks

Cardinal Dias explains Pope's remarks

By George Iype in Kochi
May 24, 2006 10:56 IST
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Pope Benedict XVI's comments last week on conversion and religious freedom in India have turned out to be controversial.

Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma said on Tuesday that the Indian government disapproves the comments the Pope made on conversions and religious intolerance in the country.

The Indian response came after the Vatican noted the 'disturbing signs of religious intolerance' that have 'troubled some regions' of India.

Such incidents included the 'reprehensible attempt to legislate clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right of religious freedom,' the Pope said.

These moves should be 'firmly rejected as not only unconstitutional, but also as contrary to the highest ideals of India's founding fathers, who believed in a nation of peaceful coexistence and mutual tolerance between different religions and ethnic groups,' the Pope said.

Pope Benedict made the comments in a written speech delivered on May 18 at a ceremony in which he received the presentation of credentials from Amitava Tripathi, India's new ambassador to the Vatican.

On Tuesday, the papal remarks came up for discussion in the Rajya Sabha after Bharatiya Janata Party members took up the issue in the House, demanding an apology from the Pope.

Minister Sharma on Tuesday also summoned Archbishop Pedro López Quintana, the Vatican's charge d'affaires in New Delhi, to his office and conveyed to him in 'no uncertain terms that the Government of India disapproved (the Pope's) statement' and was displeased by it.

But Church leaders in India say the Pope's statement on religious freedom should be seen and interpreted in the right direction.

Officially, Cardinal Ivan Dias has responded to the ongoing criticism against the papal comments.

Last week, the Mumbai-based Cardinal Dias was appointed as head of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, making him the first Asian to head the top Vatican office.

In the following comments that his office emailed to rediff.com, the Mumbai-born and raised Cardinal Dias, who is currently in the Vatican, explains the Pope's comments:

In the wake of some criticism to this statement by a tiny politico-religious fraction (unrepresentative) of the religious majority in India, the following points are worth noting:

Conversion from one religious belief to another is a strictly personal matter between God and the individual concerned. The freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate one's religion have been enshrined in the Constitution of India. This is but an affirmation of the human rights to which every man, woman and child is entitled.

Conversions, however, should never be induced by force, fraud or allurement: the Catholic Church considers all such conversions as invalid. But, any opposition by law or de facto to a genuine conversion, besides being a grave violation of the code of human rights and of the spirit of the Indian Constitution, is, above all, an unwarranted interference in God's unique competence in the matter.

It is, therefore, imperative that the said group be asked to produce factual evidence proving a single forced conversion to the Catholic Church in India as a sign of its bonafide intentions. All allegations made in this regard in the past have proved to be utterly false, like the one made last year by a government education officer against a Catholic school in Nashik, when he was refused a favour he was demanding very arrogantly. When questioned by his superiors at Mantralaya (the state government headquarters in Mumbai) and asked to produce proof of his complaint, he was quick to retract his accusation and he publicly apologised for his haughty behaviour.

The Christians in India number only 2.3% of the total population: of these 1.8% belong to the Catholic Church. Despite being such a tiny minority, the Christians cater to 20% of all the primary education in the country, 10% of the literacy and community health care programmes, 25% of the care of the orphans and widows, and 30% of the care of the handicapped, lepers and AIDS patients.

The vast majority of those who avail themselves of these institutions belong to faiths other than Christian. These institutions are much appreciated by Hindus, Muslims and persons of other faiths or of no faith at all, who admire the Christians for their selfless service of the suffering, the marginalised, the illiterate and the downtrodden.

The aforementioned group would do well to examine how much it is doing in favour of the educational, health and social uplift of the Indian people, and should not take it amiss that some members of the religious majority in India (and of other communities as well) feel attracted to follow a religion whose founder, Our Lord Jesus Christ, told His followers that He had come, not to be served, but to serve and who commanded them to love one another as He had loved them.

The group can also ask itself why so many persons of other faiths, including even government officials, insist on their children being educated in so-called 'convent schools' or on admitting their sick and aged relatives in Catholic hospitals or homes.

The same group could also make a survey as to how many of the millions of persons who have passed through the Catholic educational, health or social institutions in India from time immemorial -- and these include, interalia, renowned judges and advocates, medical practitioners and nurses, political and religious leaders, and even some prominent members of the group itself! -- have been converted or were asked to convert to Christianity. They would thus find the reason why, after two thousand years of Christian presence in India and the zealous activity of its members in favour of the local population, the number of Christians remains exceedingly small in the country.

If the said group is unable to answer these points satisfactorily, it would do well to re-consider its profoundly biased attitude towards the Christian community, and be ashamed of the attacks, both verbal and physical, which some of its members make on Christian personalities and institutions in several states in the country. Such a behaviour is indeed unbecoming of civilised persons and seriously endangers the secular and democratic fabric of our beloved Motherland, to which Catholics in India are proud to belong as law-abiding citizens.

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George Iype in Kochi
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