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Posts Tagged ‘Christians’

Pope Benedict XVI’s writing: Salt of the earth

Posted by jytmkh on November 1, 2008

Life can sometimes make our Christian faith feel like a burden, as Jenny Ang says. But through Pope Benedict’s writings, she has found that it is faith is what makes life filled with joy in the first place.

 

Dear readers,

We are called by God to lead a life worthy of being a Christian but along the way, we often find ourselves falling again and again.

It is no doubt a deep comfort to feel God’s love and forgiveness when we confess our waywardness and strive to change, but this constant struggle can take its toil. The heart of the matter is: faith can sometimes feel like a burden strapped on our back along this arduous journey of life. How then is one able to find joy in our faith?

On that question, this brings me to a book length interview titled, Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium, given by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) to Peter Seewald, a secular German journalist.  The book was first published in 1996.

The Pope answers that, “I would put it the other way around: faith gives joy. When God is not there, the world becomes desolate, and everything becomes boring, and everything is completely unsatisfactory. It’s easy to see today how a world empty of God is also increasingly consuming itself, how it has become a wholly joyless world.  The great joy comes from the fact that there is this great love, and that is the essential message of faith.”

He goes on to explain, “To that extent it can be said that the basic element of Christianity is joy.  Joy not in the sense of cheap fun, which can conceal desperation in the background…. Rather, it is joy in the proper sense.  A joy that exists together with a difficult life and also makes this life liveable.”

He reminds us that, “The history of Jesus Christ begins, according to the Gospel, with the angel saying to Mary, “Rejoice!” On the night of nativity the angels say again: We proclaim to you a great joy.  And Jesus says, “I proclaim to you the good news.” So the heart of the matter is always expressed in these terms: I proclaim to you a great joy, God is here, you are beloved, and this stands firm forever.”

The Pope’s answer to this question of joy is very moving. It opens up a window for us to look at God with pure joy, instead of seeing him as a heavy yoke.

In the book, the Pope squarely faces a barrage of other incisive questions that took him through his own personal biography, the problems of the Catholic Church and the Church in the new millennium including Christian unity.

He addresses questions on moral controversies such as contraception, abortion and euthanasia unflinchingly in truth.

He also discusses the “canon of criticisms” such as celibacy, women’s ordination and the remarriage of divorced persons and points out that there is a fixation in the Church on these issues.  They are “serious problems” but “there is too little attention to the fact that 80 percent of the people of this world are non-Christians who are waiting for the gospel, or for whom, at any rate, the gospel is also intended, and we shouldn’t be constantly agonizing over our own questions but should be pondering how we as Christians can express today in this world what we believe and thereby say something to these people.”

In addition, to the call from liberals that the Church should change and move with the times on these issues, the Pope recalls the view of another theologian, Johann Baptist Metz, who says that it was a good thing that the experiment was made in Lutheran Christianity for “it shows that being a Christian today does not stand or fall on these questions. That the resolution of these matters doesn’t make the gospel more attractive or being a Christian any easier. It does not even achieve the agreement that will better hold the Church together.”  He believes that “we should finally be clear on this point, that the Church is not suffering on account of these questions.”

To the question whether the approach of society wanting to examine the Church, the history of the Church and the doctrine of the Church in terms of a certain plausibility, the Pope illuminates that it is not wrong when one tries to find a certain reasonability in the faith since it can be understood and could be made evident to people.  However, “if one conceives the term plausibility so narrowly that one accept only those things about Christianity that suit our way of living at a certain time, then, of course, we make Christianity too cheap and at that very moment are no longer worth anything.”

It is also apparent from the book that truth is the central concept of the Pope’s thought and the quest for truth is a constant of his life. He says that “it became clear to me how important it is that we don’t lose the concept of truth, in spite of the menaces and perils it doubtless carries with it.  It has to remain the central category.  As a demand on us that doesn’t give us rights but requires, on the contrary, our humility and our obedience and can lead us to the common path.”

In this sense, we can understand why when the Pope says, “The words of the Bible and of the Church Fathers rang in my ears, those sharp condemnations of shepherds who are like mute dogs; in order to avoid conflicts, they let the poison spread.  Peace is not the first civic duty, and a bishop whose only concern is not to have problems and to gloss over as many conflicts as possible is an image I find repulsive.”

Throughout the book, I find the Pope’s answers to be pastoral, insightful, learned, forthright and above all, coming from a heart of deep faith grounded in truth.  In my view, he sees the crises facing the Church as primarily stemming from a crisis of faith. His clarion call to return to our true faith by living it convincingly and to pass on that faith is particularly poignant.

What ultimately comes through in the book is the Pope’s unwavering conviction that Jesus is Lord and in God’s promise that he will never abandon his Church, come what may.  This is reason enough to rejoice.

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42000 CONVERTED only 2 followed law

Posted by jytmkh on October 31, 2008

Sources-New Indian Express

KANDHAMAL (Orissa): There has been a 66 percent growth in Christian population in Orissa’s Kandhamal region, which has seen attacks on Christians and churches. Of the 42,353 who adopted Christianity between 1991 and 2001, only two followed law to change religion
According to data available with the district collectorate, the Christian population in Kandhamal was 117,950 in the 2001 census, up from 75,597 a decade earlier.
“The Christian growth rate in the district is 66 percent as against 18.6 percent for the overall population growth in the district,” District Collector Krishan Kumar told IANS.
Kumar said that the Orissa Freedom of Religious Act, which came into action in 1989, allows people to change or adopt any religion but all such individuals need to submit a form to the district magistrate.
“We have received just two applications not just between 1991 and 2001 but between 1989 and 2008. We must understand that every one must follow law,” Kumar explained.
However, he did not specify what action the district administration has taken to punish those who have violated the law.
Asked if he attributes the growth of Christian population to conversions, he said: “It could be because of two reasons – conversion and migration.”
Of the over 650,000 people in the troubled district, at least 53 percent are tribals, less than 20 percent Christians. Of the nearly 118,000 Christians, a majority has converted from Dalit families.
Kumar said that conversion, longstanding caste conflicts between tribals and Dalits, poverty and growing influence of Hindu groups among the tribal population had led to several communal clashes in recent years.
Ever since the killing of Swami Laxmanananda, a Hindu religious leader, and four of his supporters by unidentified gunmen Aug 23, anti-Christian violence has been boiling in Kandhamal.
While Maoists have claimed responsibility for the murders, the Hindu leader’s supporters have insisted that Christians were behind the murder. The Orissa Police are investigating the case.
At least 38 people including a Central Reserve Police Force trooper lost their lives in clashes. While over 3,000 houses, mostly belonging to Christians, were gutted or vandalized in Kandhamal, over 23,000 people fled from their villages fearing death.
“Yes, there is a growth in Christian population but that does not mean fanatics from organisations like Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad can kill people,” Hemant Naik, a rights activists from Udaygiri town, told IANS.
“While talking about conversion, we must also talk about reconversion. While no one has complained about their change in faith to Christianity, 62 people have registered complaints about forced reconversion to Hinduism,” said another activist, Issac Digal.

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Stop the politics of division

Posted by jytmkh on October 14, 2008

Last week, in responding to some of the hundreds of reactions i received to my September 28 column on the anti-Christian violence in Orissa and Karnataka, i tackled the vexed question of conversions to Christianity, which many readers argued constituted a provocation for the violence. But the conversion issue is not purely a religious one: behind it lies a profoundly political question, one which goes to the heart of the nature of the Indian state, and indeed to the very idea of India itself.

In my original piece i argued that violence is part of a contemptible political project whose closest equivalent can in fact be found in the ‘Indian Mujahideen’ bomb blasts. Both actions are anti-national; both aim to divide the country by polarising people along their religious identities; and both hope to profit politically from such polarisation. In this context, the issue of conversion becomes a diversion. Because to say that conversions are somehow inherently wrong would accord legitimacy to the rhetoric of the Bajrang Dal and its cohorts – who declare openly that conversions from Hinduism to any other faith are anti-national. Implicit is the idea that to be Hindu is somehow more natural, more authentically Indian, than to be anything else, and that to lapse from Hinduism is to dilute one’s identification with the motherland.

As a Hindu, I reject that notion utterly. I reject the presumption that the purveyors of hatred speak for all or even most Hindus. Hinduism, we are repeatedly told, is a tolerant faith. The central tenet of tolerance is that the tolerant society accepts that which it does not understand and even that which it does not like, so long as it is not sought to be imposed upon the unwilling. One cannot simultaneously extol the tolerance of Hinduism and attack Christian homes and places of worship.

And as an Indian, i would argue that the whole point about India is the rejection of the idea that religion should be a determinant of nationhood. Our nationalist leaders never fell into the insidious trap of agreeing that, since Partition had established a state for Muslims, what remained was a state for Hindus. To accept the idea of India you have to spurn the logic that divided the country in 1947. Your Indianness has nothing to do with which God you choose to worship, or not.

To suggest that an Indian Hindu becoming Christian is an anti-national act not only insults the millions of patriotic Indians who trace their Christi

 

anity to more distant forebears, including the Kerala Christians whose families converted to the faith of Saint Thomas centuries before the ancestors of many of today’s Hindu chauvinists even learned to think of themselves as Hindu. It is an insult, too, to the national leaders, freedom fighters, educationists, scientists, military men, journalists and sportsmen of the Christian faith who have brought so much glory to the country through their actions and sacrifices. It is, indeed, an insult to the very idea of India. Nothing could be more anti-national than that.

One reader, Raju Rajagopal, writing “as a fellow Hindu”, expressed himself trenchantly in describing ‘terrorism’ and ‘communal riots’ as “two sides of the same coin, which systematically feed on each other.” The only difference, he added, is “that the first kind of terrorism is being unleashed by a fanatical few who swear no allegiance to the idea of India, whereas the second kind of terror is being unleashed by those who claim to love India more dearly than you and i, who are part of the electoral politics of India, and who know the exact consequences of their actions: creating deep fissures between communities, whose horrific consequences the world has witnessed once too often in recent decades.”

That is the real problem here. Nehru had warned that the communalism of the majority was especially dangerous because it could present itself as nationalist. Yet, Hindu nationalism is not Indian nationalism. And it has nothing to do with genuine Hinduism either. A reader bearing a Christian name wrote to tell me that when his brother was getting married to a Hindu girl, the Hindu priest made a point of saying to him before the ceremony words to the effect of: “When i say God, i don’t mean a particular God.” As this reader commented: “It’s at moments like that that i can’t help but feel proud to be Indian and to be moved by its religiosity – even though i’m an atheist.”

As a Hindu, I relish pointing out that i belong to the only major religion in the world that does not claim to be the only true religion. Hinduism asserts that all ways of belief are equally valid, and Hindus readily venerate the saints, and the sacred objects, of other faiths. Hinduism is a civilisation, not a dogma. There is no such thing as a Hindu heresy. If a Hindu decides he wishes to be a Christian, how does it matter that he has found a different way of stretching his hands out towards God? Truth is one, Vivekananda reminded all Hindus, but there are many ways of attaining it.

So, the rejection of other forms of worship, other ways of seeking the Truth, is profoundly un-Hindu, as well as being un-Indian. The really important debate is not about conversions, but between the unifiers and the dividers – between those who think all Indians are “us”, whichever God they choose to worship, and those who think that Indians can be divided into “us” and “them”. The reduction of non-Hindus to second-class status in their own homeland is unthinkable. It would be a second Partition: this time a partition not just in the Indian soil, but in the Indian soul.

It is time for all of us to say: stop the politics of division. We are all Indians.

 Source: SHASHI ON SUNDAY The Times of India

 

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Pope condemns violence against Christians in Iraq, India

Posted by jytmkh on October 13, 2008

VATICAN CITY (AFP) — Pope Benedict XVI condemned on Sunday violence perpetrated against Christians in India and Iraq.

“I invite you to pray for peace and reconciliation as situations cause concern and great suffering…. I think of violence against Christians in Iraq and India,” he said after a ceremony in which he canonised India’s first woman saint.

The pontiff addressed Indians who made the trip to Vatican City for the canonisation of Sister Alfonsa, who died in 1946 aged 36.

India’s Christian minority, making up little more than two percent of the population, has felt particularly threatened in recent months.

Attacks by Hindu extremists on Christians in the eastern Indian state of Orissa have left 35 people dead since August

“As the Christian faithful of India give thanks to God for their first native daughter to be presented for public veneration, I wish to assure them of my prayers during this difficult time,” Pope Benedict said.

“I urge the perpetrators of violence to renounce these acts and join with their brothers and sisters to work together in building a civilization of love,” he said.

In Iraq, the government said it dispatched nearly 1,000 police to the northern city of Mosul on Sunday to protect Christians fleeing the worst violence perpetrated against them in five years.

Nearly 1,000 Christian families have fled homes in the city since Friday, taking shelter on the northern and eastern fringes of Nineveh province after at least 11 Christians died in a spate of attacks in recent weeks.

At least three homes of Christians were blown up by unidentified attackers on Saturday in the Sukkar district of Mosul, which is regarded by US and Iraqi security forces of one of the last urban bastions of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

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Terror in Orissa

Posted by jytmkh on October 13, 2008

A Christianity Today editorial

Religiously motivated terrorism is constantly in today’s headlines, and Islam has faced its share of scrutiny of late (see, for example, “Islam According to Gallup,” page 38). This is not surprising, given that we are barely seven years removed from Osama bin Laden’s attacks against the United States. Yet no faith has a corner on the terror market. Bloodshed darkens the ranks of every religion.
India, the world’s second most populous country, has long been wracked by sectarian violence. In the six-plus decades since Indian independence, Hindu mobs have attacked Sikhs, Muslims, and other Hindus. In fact, a Hindu assassinated Mahatma Gandhi.
It’s time for India to start acting like the world’s largest democracy
Christians, too, who constitute about 2.4 percent of India’s 1.1 billion people, have long been easy targets for those who believe that to be Indian is to be Hindu. This summer, terrorists in Orissa launched a pogrom against the state’s defenseless Christian scapegoats after Maoist rebels assassinated a prominent Hindu swami (see page 15). As local police looked the other way, dozens of Christians were murdered, hundreds of homes were destroyed, scores of churches were torched, and thousands of Christians fled to nearby forests for safety. Some faced this stark choice: Become a Hindu or be killed. The mayhem quickly spread to five more states. Pledging aid to the victims, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh—whose secular government did too little, too late—called the violence a “national shame.” What an understatement that is.

An Attack Every Three Days
The real embarrassment to the world’s largest democracy is not this incident. No, it is the fact that this flashpoint is not all that unusual for India. Orissa witnessed other attacks against
Christians just last Christmas. According to All India Christian Council, which defends the human rights of the nation’s long-oppressed Dalits, somewhere in India an attack against Christians occurs on average every three days. Readers of this periodical will likely recall the grisly murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in Orissa nearly a decade ago (ct, March 1, 1999).
Freedom of religion is currently under threat in India. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom notes “a marked increase in violent attacks against members of religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians” in the late 1990s. The Institute on Religion and Public Policy (irpp) counts four Indian states—Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh—that formally restrict the right of Christians to share their faith with non-Christians.
Anti-Christian activists use these laws to punish followers of Jesus who attempt to obey the Great Commission, often claiming that Christians illegally bribe the poor to convert. This is a distortion at best. There is no doubt that many downtrodden Indians advance economically when they break the millennia-old chains of caste. How could they not? When you are at the very bottom, any move is a move up. Not to mention that many prefer the freedom Christ offers to Hinduism’s caste system.
As Doug Bandow of the irpp dryly observes, “Rather than address the horrid treatment of lower-caste Indians, Hindu militants prefer to attack Christians.” George Orwell could have been referring to the evils of caste when he wrote, “Imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” Many Dalits have decided to shout, “No!” to the caste system’s pitiless boot, and convert.
State anti-conversion laws contradict India’s sprawling constitution, which formally prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. The charter also recognizes that “all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice, and propagate religion.”
These pernicious state laws also go against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was formally adopted by the United Nations General Assembly 60 years ago, right after India’s independence. That document recognizes “the inherent dignity and … the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” Article 18, which highlights the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, notes, “This right includes freedom to change … religion or belief, and freedom … to manifest … religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” It’s time for New Delhi to get serious about religious freedom.

‘Where Does It End?’
Prominent Hindus who rightly see their nation as an emerging world power are beginning to turn away in disgust from the militants. “I am a Hindu myself,” Indian television talk-show host Rajiv Bajaj says. “Hinduism is a strong, ancient, rich tradition. Are we so insecure about our identity and heritage that it should lead to this kind of mindlessness? First the Sikhs, then the Muslims, now the Christians. Where does it end?”
Columnist Karan Thapar, meanwhile, believes “the time has come for the silent majority of Hindus—both those who ardently practice their faith as well as those who were born into it but may not be overtly religious or devout—to speak out.” They will find ready allies in Christians, who have blessed India since the first century, building schools, feeding the hungry, and standing up for the God-given dignity of all people. And we will continue to do so, come what may from the terrorists.

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Devil’s Advocate: Archbishop says ban Bajrang Dal

Posted by jytmkh on September 30, 2008

Devil’s Advocate: Archbishop says ban Bajrang Dal

Karan Thapar / CNN-IBN

Are Indian Christians insecure after the recent attacks? How does the church respond to allegations levelled against it by the Bajrang Dal? Karan Thapar raises these issues with the Archbishop of Delhi and president of National United Christian Forum Vincent Concessao.

Karan Thapar: The church, its priests and nuns, Christians are under attack in Karnataka, Orissa, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Delhi. Are you getting the felling that the church and its faith is under attack in India as a whole?

Vincent Concessao: Definitely, the church is under attack. The feeling of most of our people is that of insecurity because the government has not been able to protect them from atrocities.

Karan Thapar: So you are saying that it feels to you as if it is a nationwide phenomena.

Vincent Concessao: It is because there has been a lot of groundwork behind this—years of groundwork in spreading Hindutva.

Karan Thapar: You are saying the Christian community is actually feeling scared.

Vincent Concessao: Definitely. Because when attacks come unexpectedly—sometimes from people who are not of the place but from outside—you never know what happens next.

Karan Thapar: You mean to say that ordinary Christians are suddenly looking over their shoulders wondering when they will be the next victim.

Vincent Concessao: Precisely.

Karan Thapar: As you see it, this is a conspiracy against the Christian church and the Christian community organised by the Bajrang Dal?

Vincent Concessao: There is no doubt about it because it cannot be that all of a sudden in different places you have these attacks and atrocities.

You get crowds of people who are being organised with a purpose. You cannot get just hundreds of people together to attack innocent people unless they are organised and motivated.

That is the groundwork Hindutva has done in the past several decades.

Karan Thapar: So your suspicion is aroused by the fact that this is happening geographically across the country and it is happening in a very concerted, small space of time.

Vincent Concessao: Yes, I suppose they did try this earlier but probably they now feel more confident—that with these attacks they can organise all the Hindus together against the minorities and have better political outcome from this.

Karan Thapar: Let us look at two areas where attacks on Christians have attracted most attention. Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has said he has done everything in his government’s power to protect Christians. Do you believe him?

Vincent Concessao: Not at all. He has not done even the minimum that is required to protect the citizens. How is that people could carry on vandalising institutions and killing people for days together? And it is still happening.

Karan Thapar: You really mean it when you say that he has not done the minimum that is required.

Vincent Concessao: That is what I am saying.

Karan Thapar: So you are accusing him in a sense of dereliction of duty?

Vincent Concessao: Yes, it is the responsibility of the state government to protect all its people. That has not happened. Attacks are still continuing.

Karan Thapar: You say attacks are still continuing and no doubts there have been reports of houses and churches being burnt in the last 48 hours in Kandhamal, but two days ago Naveen Patnaik’s deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha said on TV that Orissa is on the verge of normalcy. How do you respond to that?

Vincent Concessao: I don’t know what he understands by normalcy. There are thousands still in the jungles. I don’t know how they are eating, how there medical needs are being looked after—and in this rain what suffering they are going through.

They are afraid to go back to their places because their houses are no more there. They are scared of the goondas (goons) who could attack them.

Karan Thapar: Christians in Orissa are scared of their lives being lost?

Vincent Concessao: Definitely.

Karan Thapar: What about Karnataka? In Karnataka, it is reported that the police themselves attacked the churches. How do you respond to that?

Vincent Concessao: Very irresponsible behaviour. What I read from the newspapers was that these were new police officers—it is like the hedge is eating the vegetables.

Karan Thapar: In other words those who should be protecting are turning into attackers.

Vincent Concessao: Yes.

Karan Thapar: Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa called upon the Archbishop of Bangalore and you have just returned from Bangalore. Was the explanation given to the church acceptable?

Vincent Concessao: No, the Archbishop of Bangalore was very upset, because for us the Blessed Sacrament is something precious. It is the heart of our Christian faith and when that gets desecrated anybody would be hurt. That is why he was so upset.

Karan Thapar: What more have you called upon the Karnataka government to do?

Vincent Concessao: Ban these terrorist groups, the mobs that attack small groups of minorities. Protection and security for all our people.

Karan Thapar: But at this moment Christians and the church as an institution feel unprotected in Karnataka?

Vincent Concessao: They are unprotected; they feel unprotected.

Karan Thapar: You said that you wanted the Karnataka Chief Minister to ban terrorist groups. Do you mean the Bajrang Dal?

Vincent Concessao: Yes.

Karan Thapar: Specifically, you want a ban on the Bajrang Dal?

Vincent Concessao: Bajrang Dal and even the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), which is very closely related to the Bajrang Dal.

Karan Thapar: You are calling as the Archbishop of Delhi and as the president of National United Christian Forum for a ban on the Bajrang Dal and the VHP.

Vincent Concessao: (Bajrang Dal and the) VHP because of what they have done in the last few weeks.

Karan Thapar: When you made this request to the Karnataka Chief Minister what did he say?

Vincent Concessao: I didn’t make it. The Bishop must have done it.

Karan Thapar: What reply did he get?

Vincent Concessao: I have no idea. I have not talked to him about it.

Karan Thapar: But you don’t believe that the Chief Minister is going to ban the Bajrang Dal and the VHP, do you?

Vincent Concessao: I don’t think, because it seems to some sort of collusion.

Karan Thapar: A collusion between the BJP-led Karnataka government, the Bajrang Dal and the VHP?

Vincent Concessao: Because the ideology is the same. The problem is not just some incident here and there. Behind it (attacks on churches) is a very clear ideology and strategy.

Karan Thapar: So you believe the BJP is colluding with the Bajrang Dal to attack Christians?

Vincent Concessao: That is the impression I am getting because of their not fulfilling the responsibility to protect Christians.

Karan Thapar: So you believe that today ‘the enemies of the church and the enemies of the Christian community is the BJP itself’.

Vincent Concessao: Yes, as manifested in what has happened.

Karan Thapar: You personally met both the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi and no doubt they are sympathetic but have they responded with the alacrity and the determination you were looking for?

Vincent Concessao: They were very sympathetic and they felt it was a shame that such things are happening in these days.

They also pointed out their limitations—the question of state-Centre relationship comes in and also their dependence on other parties working in alliance with them.

Karan Thapar: It is interesting for you to say that they pointed out their limitation. I want to ask you a specific question. Do you believe that Sonia Gandhi uses her position and influence to protect and help Indian Christians, or is she reluctant to do so?

Vincent Concessao: Well, I do feel that she is concerned, but that’s another accusation that the Hindutva bodies have been levelling against her, that because she is a Christian, she is in favour of Christians.

Karan Thapar: So you are suggesting that to protect herself against this Hindutva accusation, she actually doesn’t do as much for Christians as she could or she should?

Vincent Concessao: I think so; I think so.

Karan Thapar: Is it a fact that in January 2007 when the then Congress government in Himachal Pradesh was poised to pass an Anti-conversion Bill you wrote to Sonia Gandhi and she never responded to your letter?

Vincent Concessao: No, she did not.

Karan Thapar: Did that disappoint you?

Vincent Concessao: Well, I would say so.

Karan Thapar: Let me broaden the discussion a little. It is well understood today that Indian Muslims feel discriminated; they feel a sense of prejudice against them. That was not thought to be the case with Indian Christians. Now is it changing for Christians as well?

Vincent Concessao: Slowly it is getting into it, it is becoming more and more clear because of the non-action by responsible agencies in fulfilling their responsibility to protect and give security to our people.

Karan Thapar: So the more politicians fail to protect Christians, the more Christians feel discriminated against.

Vincent Concessao: Naturally.

Karan Thapar: Are Indians beginning to feel ill-treated, perhaps even in some places unwanted?

Vincent Concessao: I don’t think so. What is happening today is the work of a fringe group. The vast majority of our people are not against what we believe in and what we are committed to.

Karan Thapar: But if the fringe group is not checked then this could spread like a contagion?

Vincent Concessao: Definitely.

Karan Thapar: And then at that point Christians could feel discriminated, ill-treated and unwanted.

Vincent Concessao: It could be but I have a clear feeling that these fringe groups are not Hindus. Hinduism is not to be identified with Hindutva. Hindutva has its ideology from the West—from Hitler and Nazism. It has no roots in India, or in Hinduism.

Karan Thapar: In other words these fringe groups which are targeting Christians, are not representative of the vast majority of Hindus.

Vincent Concessao: Not at all.

Karan Thapar: These groups may hate Christians, but you feel no such hatred from the vast majority of Hindus.

Vincent Concessao: Definitely not, they (Hindus) are far more tolerant, far more open and broad-minded.

Karan Thapar: The Bajrang Dal believes the Christian church is responsible for the defamation and vilification of Hindu Gods as contained, for example, in the book called Satyadarshini, which has created enormous offence in Karnataka. Let me ask you bluntly: is the church connected, directly or indirectly, with Satyadarshini.

Vincent Concessao: Certainly not. We respect all religions. Any literature which creates disharmony or is offends people should be avoided. We condemn such publication of literature.

Karan Thapar: I quote to you what the press claims ‘Satyadarshini’ says about Hindu Gods. It says Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are the victims of lust. It says Vishnu’s daughter Urvashi was a prostitute. It says Krishna represents darkness, rather than light. The Bajrang Dal says this is representative of how the Christian church views the Hindu faith.

Vincent Concessao: I think it is generalisation of what somebody has written. It (Satyadarshini) is apparently the work of one man. You cannot on that account attack the Christian community.

Karan Thapar: Do you condemn such views?

Vincent Concessao: Definitely.

Karan Thapar: Unequivocally?

Vincent Concessao: Yes, yes.

Karan Thapar: Very strongly?

Vincent Concessao: Definitely.

Karan Thapar: Do you disassociate the church from such views completely?

Vincent Concessao: Yes, we respect all religions. Our thinking maybe different and we differ. That is part of human life, particularly different points of view.

Karan Thapar: Do you subscribe to such views?

Vincent Concessao: No, if any literature disrespects other religions and is a cause of disharmony then it is to be condemned.

Karan Thapar: The problem is that the author of Satyadarshini is Rev. P Suryanarayan and the book says it was revised by Rev S Mallikat. Both of those are members of the Christian clergy.

Vincent Concessao: Could be, could be.

Karan Thapar: So isn’t there a Christian connection, a church connection with this book.

Vincent Concessao: When you speak of Christian clergy, then it is not one large organisation throughout the world. There are there different churches; some of them have different emphasis on different things. Maybe they are clergymen but not associated with all the churches.

Karan Thapar: Are they associated with the Catholic church, which is your church?

Vincent Concessao: I don’t think.

Karan Thapar: Do you think whichever church they are associated with that church should take disciplinary action against them?

Vincent Concessao: If they belong to a church the church will. But if they belong to another group, even though they are Christians they don’t come under the church’s jurisdiction.

Karan Thapar: Do you think the other group should take action against them?

Vincent Concessao: They should.

Karan Thapar: The problem is this is not the first time such defamatory literature about Hindu Gods or the Hindu faith has been released.

Earlier, as you perhaps know an organisation or a church calling itself the Southern Baptist which has released pamphlets where they spoke of the hopeless and darkness of Hinduism.

They called for Christ’s salvation in Kolkata. Then again that was widely perceived as an insult to the Hindu faith. If these don’t reflect the views of right-thinking Christians like yourself, why do these views kept getting published and released?

Vincent Concessao: This is a religious matter. You have no control over all those who claim to be Christians. Definitely our position is of respect for all people.

Karan Thapar: Are the authors of such pamphlets rogue Christians so to say?

Vincent Concessao: I do not know these people. They maybe misguided, maybe their interpretation is too narrow and maybe they are not able to see the good things in other religions.

Karan Thapar: But you disassociate unequivocally yourself from such people?

Vincent Concessao: With such literature.

Karan Thapar: Another area which leads to controversy is the belief that the Christian church exploits the illiteracy and poverty of Indians to seek converts?

I fully accept that you don’t indulge in forced conversion but does the Catholic church use its good work in schools, hospitals and leprosy missions to seek converts.

Vincent Concessao: This is a clear case of projection of these people on us. Their way of thinking is that. They do service in order to get some benefits—votes or whatever—and they think we also do the same. It is not correct. We serve because we are Christians.

Karan Thapar: You are saying to me categorically the work you do in schools, hospitals or leprosy missions is not connected with the desire to seek converts.

Vincent Concessao: If they turn to us and accept our faith we are happy, but the purpose is not there. The purpose is our love for God has to be manifested in our love for our neighbour.

Karan Thapar: I accept what you are saying but in 1956 the Neogi Committee in Madhya Pradesh established that the church used the work it did in schools, hospitals and leprosy missions to seek converts.

Vincent Concessao: No, it could be they worked and there were converts. But where does the linkage come. How did they know what the motivation was?

Karan Thapar: You dispute the claim that there is a linkage and a motivation?

Vincent Concessao: Definitely.

Karan Thapar: And people who suggest that are the ones who are mistaken?

Vincent Concessao: I think so. We do not serve in order to get converts. We serve because of our own commitment to Christ and our faith.

Karan Thapar: Let us come to the Christian faith in conversion. India is a multi-religious country and conversion has become a sensitive issue.

Can you agree that in the bigger, wider issue of India’s interest to a moratorium on conversions for 10-15 years so that the atmosphere calms down and the present tension diminishes?

Vincent Concessao: This proposal comes from a misunderstanding of conversion. You cannot convert anybody and forcible conversion is a contradiction in terms. If there is force there is no conversion.

Hindutva bodies are doing this and they think we are also doing it. We are not doing it, because we believe that forced conversion is invalid.

Karan Thapar: I accept there is no forced conversion. I accept conversions only happen voluntarily but conversions have become an issue that lead to passion and emotion.

Therefore, I say to you again in the wider interests of India’s unity and integrity why not place a moratorium on conversions for 10-15 years. I am not saying give up the right to convert but don’t exercise it till passions cool down.

Vincent Concessao: Whom are you stopping from exercising their freedom? Not us (but) the person who wants to become a Christian. You are restricting his freedom and that freedom has been given to him by the Constitution.

By saying this you are communicating a misconception of conversion. Conversion for me is the free exercise of the freedom of conscience given to us by the Constitution.

Karan Thapar: Is conversion or the right to convert more important to the church than the unity and integrity of India?

Vincent Concessao: Both are important.

Karan Thapar: You won’t choose between them?

Vincent Concessao: If you are limiting the freedom of the people to choose a religion they want, you are denying them their freedom. How do you expect unity to then come? Freedom is for all. This is the misunderstanding that has been repeatedly communicated to the people—this is creating problem.

It is not conversion but a distorted understanding of conversion that the believers of Hindutva have propagated for the last 80 years or so.

Karan Thapar: Archbishop Concessao, a pleasure talking to you.

(ibnlive.com)

 

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Radical Hindus step up attacks on Christians (chicagotribune.com)

Posted by jytmkh on September 29, 2008

The Tribune’s Kim Barker writes that India, a nation of many religions, struggles to overcome sectarian strife

MANGALORE, India — On their fifth day of silent prayer, the nuns of the Adoration Monastery heard the pounding in the public chapel next door, the sounds of glass shattering and the statue of Jesus being broken. After the sacrament crashed to the floor, the nuns found their voices. They screamed and called for Jesus.

The attack was one of many by radical Hindus against Christians over the past six weeks in India, a nation striving for religious tolerance but wrestling with bouts of sectarian strife that seem at odds with its drive to become a modern world power.

In the eastern state of Orissa, the country’s worst clashes, sparked by the slaying of a prominent Hindu priest, have paralyzed the state and killed at least 20 people. In the past two weeks, the violence has spread to six other states, including southwestern Karnataka and the coastal town of Mangalore.

The clashes have polarized many Christians and Hindus nationwide. Radical Hindu groups accuse Christians of killing the priest and converting Hindus, especially those from lower castes.

Christians say they have become the victims of anti-minority campaigns designed to win votes for the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, the pro-Hindu main opposition political party, in national elections next year. The party just won control of Karnataka four months ago.

“It is very inhuman, what is going on,” said Mother Superior Mary Carmel, 57, of the Adoration Monastery, a convent where the 10 nuns leave only to vote or for medical care. “What we find is the government is totally against us. Instead of helping us, the police are victimizing us.”

Many religions converge
In many ways, India is a multireligious marvel, with a Sikh prime minister, a Hindu president and a Roman Catholic ruling-party leader. Indian coins proclaim “national integration,” and TV commercials celebrate harmony between religions. But since India gained independence from the British in 1947, violence has flared every decade or so between the Hindu majority and Muslims, Christians or Sikhs.

Now, as India sets its sights on becoming a world economic power, such violence is a major embarrassment. Many moderates here question whether the country will ever accept a person’s right to religious freedom, guaranteed by the constitution.

The central government has been blamed for allowing the violence to continue. This month, New Delhi officials warned the Orissa and Karnataka governments to stop attacks on Christians or face dismissal. Still, more churches have been ransacked.

Hindu fundamentalists say converts from Hinduism are somehow less Indian than Hindus. Seven states, including Orissa, ban conversion.

“The converted Christians, the converted Muslims, become cruel,” said M.B. Puranik, an official with the radical Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or VHP, and in charge of the party in the Mangalore area. “Their nationhood, their loyalty, is not to the nation. Their loyalty is to the Vatican. Their loyalty is to Allah. Conversion is the enemy of the nation.”

Catholic officials deny actively recruiting. Evangelical groups, especially in the south, have been very active trying to find converts, in one case setting up an illegal Christian orphanage after the tsunami for Hindu orphans. But Alwyn Colaco, a pastor with the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in Mangalore, denied that anyone is forced into Christianity.

“That is a No. 1 lie, the No. 1 biggest lie,” he said. “Everyone’s free to propagate their religion. People are given enough time to evaluate and choose what they want.”

About 2.3 percent of Indians are Christian, compared with 80.4 percent Hindus, according to the 2001 census. In the 1961 census, 2.4 percent of Indians were Christian.

Violence may worsen

Anti-Christian violence could worsen in the run-up to parliamentary elections next year, analysts say, citing past experience. The BJP grew from a minor party to the major opposition party 16 years ago, largely through pro-Hindu policies that sparked riots. The party has been accused of being complicit in violence against both Muslims and Christians to win votes.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, the national BJP spokesman, said riots were unfortunate but blamed clashes on the conversion efforts and the death of the Hindu priest. He accused Christians in Karnataka of handing out pamphlets insulting Hindu gods. He denied that the BJP used communal divisions to manipulate voters.

“That is wholly wrong, a motivated campaign, patently false,” Prasad said.

V.S. Acharya, home minister of Karnataka, told journalists last week that the central government crackdown on the violence was an “overreaction.” As home minister, he is in charge of police in the state. Acharya also met with Hindu priests demanding the state ban conversion.

Ashit Mohan Prasad, the police official who oversees Mangalore and three districts of Karnataka hit by the anti-Christian violence, said police were independent and doing everything possible to prevent future clashes.

But nationwide, police and government officials have hardly been proactive. In Orissa, mobs rioted for weeks and sectarian violence raged on in spots late last week.

In Mangalore, Hindu activists first started beating anyone suspected of killing cows, considered holy, and any non-Hindu man caught talking to a Hindu woman. Then they planted yellow flags, a pro-Hindu symbol, on Cross Hill, amid 14 Christian crosses.

On Sept. 14, 20 churches and prayer halls were attacked at the same time in three districts. The leader of the Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the VHP, called a news conference to claim responsibility. He was not arrested for more than five days—and only after the national government issued its warning.

Though the vandals hit one Catholic church—the Holy Adoration—and focused mainly on evangelical prayer halls, Catholics across Mangalore clashed with police for two days.

Three nuns ended up in the hospital. One had stitches over her left eye after being hit with a rock or a tear gas canister while standing on the steps of a church. Two, more than 60 years old, said they were beaten by police while inside Catholic schools. Police are investigating claims of brutality.

Many Christians urged forgiveness and calm, but others said they had suffered enough. Church member Celine Lawrance, 76, said she had received many miracles praying at Holy Adoration. She wanted one more.

“God has to punish them,” she said. “This is my prayer.”

kbarker@tribune.com

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Conflict over conversions

Posted by jytmkh on September 29, 2008

AMMU JOSEPH

The recent communal clashes in Orissa and Karnataka have shown that the danger to Indian society and culture is from the abandonment of civilised debate over differences and the widespread adoption of violent means to all kinds of ends.

Why then should citizens not seek refuge in whatever faith answers their particular needs, spiritual or otherwise, at particular times?

At a recent memorial meeting in Bangalore to pay tribute to Vimala Murthy, a friend’s extraordinary mother, her US-based son recounted an amusing anecdote about her first visit to his new home many years ago. Alone at home during the day while he was at university, she inadvertently fell prey to a pair of Jehovah’s Witness evangelists determined to save her soul.

Encouraged by the fact that she had let them in and heard them out on the first occasion, they turned up at her doorstep several days in a row. Too polite to tell them where to get off, she finally proposed that since she had given them a patient hearing maybe they ought to return the courtesy. They agreed and she proceeded to deliver an hour-long discourse on Hindu philosophy. They never returned.

That anecdote reminded me of my own mother’s experience with a couple of fresh-faced Mormons (adherents of the U.S.-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) who invited themselves into my parents’ apartment in Geneva and began to extol the virtues of their version of Christianity. The fact that she was already a Christian — belonging to an Indian community that had been Christian several centuries before the faith reached the shores of America and, indeed, much of Europe — obviously made no difference to their mission.

She let them have their say for a while and then proceeded to tell them exactly what she thought of some of the beliefs and practices of their church, not to mention their attempts at proselytising. I remember feeling sorry for the young men who turned red and white in turn as they listened to this unexpectedly well-informed and articulate woman in a sari. They, too, never returned.

Lost facts

 

I recall these incidents as I attempt to figure out what I think (as opposed to feel) about the recent violence against Christian institutions and individuals in Orissa and Karnataka, the latest in the series of sporadic, often brutal, attacks in different parts of the country over the past several years that only occasionally gain nationwide public attention.

The stories may seem trivial in the current, distressing context but, for me, they highlight some facts that seem to have got lost somewhere, including the reality that even long-time Christians are sometimes targets of proselytisation. Indians from socially and economically privileged backgrounds certainly know how to deal with unwanted attention from anyone who might try to woo them in the name of religion.

Those who are socially and economically vulnerable may be more susceptible to evangelists of various kinds with different agendas (who are not confined to any one faith or ideology) for diverse reasons. But it would be disrespectful to the poor and the socially marginalised to assume that they would unthinkingly allow any propagandist, religious or otherwise, to lead them by the nose.

After all, these are the people — not the educated middle classes — who repeatedly throw up election results that surprise and baffle political pollsters and pundits. They may well accept the money, clothes, liquor and other inducements offered by political parties but their voting decisions are understandably based on their own calculations about merits and benefits.

So for every story about a convert who switched religions for gain of some sort, there are several about persons who make use of the educational, healthcare and other services of faith-based organisations without changing their creed. And for every story about a family divided by religious conversion there are many about families who find their own amicable ways of dealing with religious difference.

Complex factors

 

Of course, as several commentators have pointed out, a number of complex factors, including issues of land and livelihood, contributed to the recent eruption of prolonged violence — especially in Orissa. As in other situations, what appears to be a communal conflict is not necessarily or primarily rooted in religion. However, the power of religion is often used to rally the troops on either side of any divide.

At the same time it is impossible to disregard the role of religion as a source of security, comfort, succour and hope for large numbers of people. Many middle class Indians of different faiths find meaning in the teachings of one or other of a wide range of gurus (past and present), join various religious movements, and choose to make vows at places of pilgrimage associated with religions other than their own. For instance, on a trip to Israel with a group of Indian artists (all Hindu) a couple of years ago, I found that many of them were more enthusiastic about genuflecting and lighting candles in various churches than I was.

Why then should Dalits or Adivasis — or any other citizens — not seek refuge in whatever faith answers their particular needs, spiritual or otherwise, at particular times? What right does anyone else have to question their right to do so?

The venerable leaders who drafted the Indian Constitution acknowledged this right 60 years ago, during the debate preceding the passage of Article 19 (now Article 25), which guarantees the right to freedom of conscience.

For example, in his closing speech Dr. K.M. Munshi, well-known champion of Indian culture and founder of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, justified the inclusion of the right to propagate (along with the right to profess and practice) religion, saying: “I am sure, under the freedom of speech which the Constitution guarantees, it will be open to any religious community to persuade other people to join their faith. So long as religion is religion, conversion by free exercise of conscience has to be recognised. The word ‘propagate’ in this clause is nothing very much out of the way as some people think, nor is it fraught with dangerous consequences.”

Sea change

 

What a sea change there has been in public discourse in this country over the past few decades. If anything endangers Indian society and culture today it is the virtual abandonment of civilised debate over political and ideological differences and the widespread adoption of violent means to all kinds of ends.

In this connection it is a matter of concern to me that a few Christians (including some holding prominent positions) have sought to explain and excuse, if not to justify, the retaliatory stone-pelting resorted to by some rightly angry youth after the attacks on places of worship in Mangalore. Never mind the exhortation to turn the other cheek that is quite central to Christianity (even though some interpretations exclude self-defence), but that is a dangerously slippery path to take.

In the midst of all the mayhem we may be missing all kinds of opportunities to “cultivate hope,” in the words of the celebrated Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, who passed away last month. The period between the International Day of Peace (21 September) and the International Day of Non-Violence (2 October, Gandhi Jayanti) could be one such occasion.

At a time when unacceptably large numbers of Indians continue to have no access to basic needs such as food and shelter, when too many have too little access to education and healthcare, and when there is extensive unemployment and economic exploitation, not to mention social exclusion, across the land maybe we all need to rethink our priorities. Is religious conversion the best that we can do? Is it the worst?

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More Indian police sent to Orissa

Posted by jytmkh on September 27, 2008

 India has deployed several hundred more federal police to the eastern state of Orissa after another person was killed and several injured in continuing Christian-Hindu clashes.

A recent outbreak of violence over religious conversions has spread beyond Orissa and  claimed the lives of up to 27 people across three Indian states.

More than 700 federal police were being sent on Friday to bolster the 3,000 security forces already in Orissa.

Pradeep Kapur, the state’s inspector general of police in charge of law and order, said: “We have moved seven more companies of paramilitary forces to the troubled areas.”

In one of two incidents of violence in rural Kandhamal district on Thursday, police said about 50 Christians armed with knives, sticks and stones hacked a Hindu man to death in the town of Raikia.

Around 500 Hindus also attacked and burned about 50 Christian homes and two prayer halls in Beherasahi village, Kishore Pradhan, a police officer, said.

Christians account for about 2.5 per cent of India’s 1.1 billion population, while Hindus make up 80 per cent.

Clashes first erupted in Orissa after Swami Laxsmananda Saraswati, a prominent Hindu leader, was killed. Though Chritistians deny any role, Hindu religious parties say Christian fanatics were behind the murder.

Saraswati, who actively opposed conversions to Christianity, had survived at least eight previous assassination attempts.

‘Forced’ conversion

Orissa has a history of religious violence, usually sparked by Hindu suspicions over missionary work.

Hindu activists claim that Christian missionary groups are forcing or bribing people to convert. Church organisations deny anyone has been pressured or paid to change their religion.

 
 

Pope Benedict has condemned the attacks on Christians in India and Roman Catholic bishops have urged the EU to treat the situation as a humanitarian emergency.

Despite this, violence has continued, especially in Kandhamal, where thousands of Christians now live in government camps because their homes are destroyed or they are too fearful to return.

Hindus at some places have also been at the receiving end of the violence and been attacked.

Religious clashes have also been reported in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka states.

India does not have a long history of attacks on minority Christians, but intolerance has risen in the past two decades with a revival of Hindu nationalism.

Hindu nationalists lead or share power in the three states where Christians have come under attack.

(Al-Jazeera)

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Bishop says the “worm has turned” after Indian Christians attack Hindu

Posted by jytmkh on September 27, 2008

Bishop Nazir-Ali appeals for Christian restraint in face of Hindu violence

Beleaguered Christians in India have “run out of cheeks to be struck” a senior Anglican bishop declared yesterday, on hearing reports that a Christian mob had hacked a Hindu to death in the troubled state of Orissa.

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, called for peace, and said that the murder, conducted by a knive-wielding mob of 50 Christians, could not be condoned. But he told The Times: “For months now, scores of Christians have been killed, homes, convents and presbyteries have been burnt down to the ground.”

He said: “Now one Hindu has been killed, allegedly by Christians. We do not know under what circumstances but it suggests that the worm has turned and the Christian community has run out of cheeks to be struck.”

Appealing for an immediate end to the violence, Dr Nazir-Ali added: “As Christians, we must ask our brothers to remain as peaceful as they have during the recent provocation. We must ask, however, when justice will be done and when these people, under severe pressure, will be allowed relief.”

Thursday’s murder was one of two outbreaks of sectarian violence on the same day in the East Indian state of Orissa. According to police, 27 people died in Thursday’s violence. In a second attack, 500 Hindus burned and attacked Christian homes and two parish halls, causing local Christians to flee. No one died, but hundreds of Christians are said to be living in the jungle, having already abandoned their homes, as a result of the ongoing violence, which began on August 24th after the killing of a Hindu religious leader. On Thursday, the Indian Government appealed to the federal Government to halt the violence.

Yesterday Bishop Nazir-Ali accused the state government in Orissa of being “completely ineffective”, explaining “Christians from other parts of India, let alone elsewhere, have not been allowed by the State authorities to bring relief to the afflicted and the Federal Government has been paralysed.”

Bishop Nazir-Ali said that several weeks ago he had offered his assistance to the UK Government for a peace and factfinding mission to Orissa. “Neither the Foreign & Commonwealth Office nor the Commonwealth Secretariat have taken up this offer,” he revealed yesterday, adding: “Will the Indian Government now allow outside observers to see for themselves what has happened and what can be done about it?”

The bishop also denied claims by hardline Hindu groups in Orissa who say that Christian missionaries bribe or force Hindus to convert and are thus to blame for the recent violence. He said that Indian Christian missionaries working in the area had brought education, medicine and community assistance “to untouchables and tribals well beyond the pale of Caste Hinduism. Is it for this ‘crime’ that they are being punished?” he asked.

“The aim of their work has been service to their fellow human beings but love elicits love and if some people are becoming Christians, of their own free will, is this so unacceptable in secular and democratic India?

He called on the Indian Government to rein in extremist Hindu nationalists involved in the violence, saying: “The Government of India has a solemn responsibility to prevent violence, particularly against Muslims and Christians, by extremist Hindu nationalists. Now is the time to act and to clear this stain on the fair home of India.” (Timesonline)

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