2006-05-24 15:14:43

"Legislation against genuine conversion an unwarranted interference in God’s unique competence”: Cardinal Dias

(May 24, 2006): There have been mixed responses to Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks regarding the “attempt to legislate clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right of religious freedom” in some parts of India.”. On May 18, India’s new ambassador to the Holy See, Amitava Tripathi presented his Letters of Credence to the Pope, who in his discourse praised India and its democratic system but also made the following observation on religious freedom in India.He said “The disturbing signs of religious intolerance which have troubled some regions of the nation, including the reprehensible attempt to legislate clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right of religious freedom, must 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”. Leading figures in India’s Hindu nationalist movement have angrily rejected the charge by the Pontiff that their country is marked by “religious intolerance.” In response, Cardinal Ivan Dias, recently appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said : “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. Conversions, however, should never be induced by force, fraud or allurement and 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.
Christians in India number only 2.3% of the total population but 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, said Cardinal Ivan Dias, Archbishop of Bombay.

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