Monday, November 5, 2007

Catholic Church says conversions can never be forcible

India’s Hindus have for a long time objected to the conversion of some of their community to Christianity. In recent years Hindu extremists have objected more forcefully by attacking churches and clerics.

Religious belief can never be the result of forceful conversion, but must come through education, dialogue and mutual respect, the Vatican said Monday in a message for the Hindu Diwali holiday, according to this report by the Associated Press (AP).

The message attributed to the head of the Vatican's office for inter-religious dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, evidently tries to be reconciliatory to the Hindus who are the majority in India.

But it fails to address the concern of many Hindus, including moderates. The moderates are concerned that the Church uses charity funds to gently persuade Hindus and other communities to convert to Christianity. A number of Christian, including Catholic charities, are known to openly proselytize among the poor, using food and clothing as an incentive. Converts by this method are known as “rice Christians”.

There are also a number of people who convert to Christianity to take advantage of the abundant funds from foreign donors available to Christian charities. Often these charities pay for the education abroad of children, which would be generally out of the pale of most Hindus in India.

A commitment by the Vatican and other churches not to link charity with conversions would go a long way towards building amity with the Hindus in India, and in fact non-Christian communities in all countries.

In the past a lot of the conversions to Christianity in Asia piggybacked on Christian colonial powers. Take for example the forced conversions in Goa under Portuguese colonial rule. The Catholic Church and other churches have to now convince other religions that conversions are not piggybacking on first-world wealth and charity.

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