India: Catholic-Hindu summit condemns attacks on minorities

A high-level closed-door meeting of Catholic and Hindu leaders,  has discussed issues of violence against Christians, religious conversion and pooling of resources for social work.

The summit in Mumbai  on 12 June,  brought together Hindu spiritual leaders and representatives of the Vatican and the Indian Catholic Church. The meeting, the first of its kind, came on the heels of violent attacks against Christians in several places in India, particularly in the eastern Orissa state.

Some Church leaders who attended the meeting, but who requested anonymity, said the discussions were "free and frank." They said Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue who led the Church team, wanted to know how such attacks could take place in a secular country such as India.

According to Church sources, about 90 people, mostly Christians, were killed and thousands displaced in four months of violence by Hindu extremists that began in August 2008.

According to Church leaders at the meeting, Shankaracharya Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swami, head of the Hindu monastic institution Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, said the recent attacks on Christians were a reaction to "forced conversions."

He said he wanted an assurance from the Church that such conversions be stopped. The Church leaders assured the Hindu leaders that the Catholic Church was not involved in conversions and had no control over other groups that were. The Hindu leaders then said that they wanted those groups involved in dialogue as well.

Besides Cardinal Tauran, the Church group included Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, apostolic nuncio to India Archbishop Quintana Lopez, Archbishop Felix Machado of Nashik, Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona, Bishop Raphy Manjaly of Varanasi and Bishop Gali Bali of Guntur.

They met a total of ten top Hindu religious leaders including Sankaracharya Saraswati and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the international Art of Living foundation.

Sankaracharya Saraswati and Cardinal Gracias briefed the media together after the meeting. Sankaracharya Saraswati, in a statement, said India was a deeply spiritual country and there should not be any violence against minorities.

But he said talks were useless unless the Church assured Hindus that it would not offend Hindu sensibilities, and follow up on those assurances.

He said it had become easy for missioners to convert Hindus. All Hindu organizations and associations should work together to educate Hindus and halt conversions, he stressed.
Cardinal Gracias responded, saying that conversion is a personal choice and forced conversions do not happen in the Catholic Church. "It has no meaning, and is considered invalid," he declared.

The two leaders declared that Christian and Hindu groups would work together for social causes such as health and education, and share their resources.

Noting that India is a "spiritual country," Cardinal Gracias called for a deepening of "the spirituality of our people."

"Moral lessons should be included in the school syllabus to help children become better human beings," he said.

Bishop Dabre, a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told UCA News that all the Hindu leaders had condemned the violent attacks against Christians in Orissa. They had said that what happened in Orissa did not represent mainstream Hindu opinion.

Bishop Dabre, the chairperson of the Indian bishops' commission for the doctrine of the faith, said the Hindu-Christian dialogue was a new beginning "full of hope and augurs well" for both the communities and the country.

Archbishop Machado, former undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said the meeting brought the religious leaders face-to-face "to understand each other's concerns, and it had cleared many misgivings," he added.

Source: UCAN

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