The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Hindu religious leader: Expell all Christian missioners from India

Author: AsiaNews/Ucan
Publication: AsiaNews
Date: March 24, 2004

A prominent Hindu religious leader has accused Christian missioners of working against India and called for their expulsion from the country. Bishops based in central India have dismissed Shankaracharya Nishchalanand Saraswati's comments as biased and baseless.

Shankaracharya Saraswati, who heads one of the four "mutt," or religious seats, linked to eighth-century Hindu sage Adi Shankaracharya, made his remarks at a press conference in Bhopal, 745 kilometers south of New Delhi. Bhopal is the capital of Madhya Pradesh state, some parts of which have recently witnessed Christian-Hindu conflict.

The heads of the mutt, in the east, north, south and west of India, all have the title shankaracharya and are sometimes called “the four Hindu pontiffs”.

Shankaracharya Saraswati, who heads the eastern “mutt” in Puri Orissa state, said the "sole objective" of Christian missioners is to lure illiterate tribal and low-caste people to convert and increase the number of Christians. He claimed he saw this during his stay in Mandla, a backward area in Madhya Pradesh. Mandla is covered by Jabalpur diocese.

The shankaracharya said he would ask state Chief Minister Uma Bharti to immediately stop Christian activities in Madhya Pradesh. He alleged that Christians have never worked to improve society but are "preoccupied" with dividing society along religious lines.

Shankaracharya Saraswati said on March 18 that missioners should be banished from the country because "they are working to destabilize the Hindu nation and to install a Christian nation."

Jesuit Archbishop Pascal Topno of Bhopal, head of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, says the Hindu leader has "only repeated what are routine allegations." He told on March 21 that fundamentalist Hindu leaders often make such anti-Christian remarks.

Similarly, Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur refuted the Hindu leader's allegation that the Church indulged in mass conversion. "We have never tried to convert people. Rather, we inform aspirants of the possible difficulties and legal hassles in the process of conversion to Christianity," he said. The bishop added that Church workers counsel people who express an interest in Christianity to consult their family before embracing the religion.

According to Bishop Almeida, the Church entered the Mandla region in 1923 and local people are happy with its services. "More significantly, people are asking us to open more institutions, a fact that shows the local people appreciate our work," he said, expressing dismay that a Hindu religious leader should view Christians as a threat to national integrity.

"Raising a finger is easy. The seer made an allegation without providing any substantiation," the bishop said.

In Bhopal, Shankaracharya Saraswati also alleged that Christian leaders have used "huge" funds from abroad to "buy" government cooperation. He said Hindu organizations have objected to Christian activities, but "administrative officials are hand in glove" with Christian missioners.

Archbishop Topno said the Hindu religious leader's remarks have not frustrated local Catholics. "We know that people with goodwill appreciate us, while people of bad will persistently accuse us unnecessarily," he explained.

Father Denis Carneiro, Madhya Pradesh Catholic Church spokesperson, termed Shankaracharya Saraswati's remarks "untoward" and noted that the Hindu leader could not support his claims. "There is no apparent evidence of any increase in the Christian population in the state," he said, even though Hindu leaders have accused missioners of "converting people in huge numbers."

The priest bemoaned that critics of Christian missioners "seem to have chosen to be prejudiced rather than simply ignorant.They could dispel ignorance by making themselves aware of the facts, but prefer instead to attack the Church without any credible supporting evidence."

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