Friday, July 07, 2006

There are Hindus who believe in Jesus...

Do nationalist Hindus force them to convert back to Hinduism?

When I was in my different religion classes while on my way to getting my BA in religious studies, Hinduism was mentioned now and again. I was not into eastern religions all that much, so I never learned about the details of Hinduism, but Professor Aslan mentioned it a few times and he explained a bit about it.

1. There is no monolithic Hindu faith. There are hundreds, if not thousands of little sects that are lumped under the collective term of Hinduism by us Westerners.

2. These sects vary widely, from the usual Hindu stuff to belief in Jesus Christ while still in the 'Hindu' milieu to even outright atheism (if I remember right).

3. After millennia of these various forms living together in peace, it is just now in the last few years that the militant Hindu nationalists have begun putting together a singular Hindu faith that lives up to the Western stereotype.

This cursory knowledge adds a little context when reading through Sandro Magister's latest on the violence against Christians in India.

ROMA, July 7, 2006 – The latest annual report on religious liberty in the world issued by Aid to the Church in Need, which was presented on June 27, indicates India as one of the countries in which “Christian missionary activity is the target of systematic violence that even reaches the point of homicide, as in the case of the Catholic priest Fr. Agnos Bara, and of the Protestant pastor Gilbert Raj.” And it denounces the “increasingly numerous anti-conversion laws adopted in various Indian states.”

Benedict XVI is aware of all of this. And he wants the world to know it, too. Last May 18, while receiving the new Indian ambassador to the Holy See, Amitava Tripathi, he called the attention of the government he represents back to this issue.

But the anti-Christian act that provoked the greatest outrage was, on June 25, the aggression against four sisters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in a hospital of the Hindu temple town of Tirupati, in Andra Pradesh, a state in which there is no anti-conversion law in force.

The four sisters of the Missionaries of Charity – Maria Julia, Chriselda, Emma Felesia, and Reena Francis – had come to the hospital to assist the sick, as they have done every Sunday for years, with the permission of the authorities. Surrounded by a crowd of 300 persons, including news broadcasters, and accused of converting the dying through coercion, they were held hostage until the arrival of the police, who placed the sisters under arrest.

They were freed, late in the evening, by the prime minister of the state, upon the request of the archbishop of Hyderabad, Marampudi Joji. The following day, the archbishop held a press conference together with non-Catholic representatives of the Christian Federation of Andra Pradesh. The sisters were authorized to resume their apostolate, and a judicial investigation was begun into the organizers of the attack. The Hindu fundamentalists, the archbishop said, “are pointing to the bogeyman of conversions to discredit our chief minister, who is Christian, and to bring down his government.”

The subcontinent has always been a place of extremes living side by side. With over a billion Indians, it is the world's largest democracy. At the same time, the world's largest democracy tolerates religious violence in a way that threatens its standing in thw world.

If the Hindu nationalists and their allies in the state governments were persecuting Muslims (13.4% of the population), they'd find themselves probably in a civil war and possibly a nuclear one with Pakistan.

On the other hand, we have a quote from Cardinal Dias:

“Christians in India number only 2.3% of the total population: of these 1.8% belong to the Catholic Church. Despite being such a tiny minority, the Christians 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.”

In a country of 1.1 billion, 2.3% a relative drop in the bucket and those people make good targets, what with their charitable visibility.

These trends tell us a bit about where India is going. The Christians of India will no doubt persevere either in life or in death, as the Holy Spirit is with them. But this kind of situation holds broader geopolitical elements that should be considered when dealing with the situation.

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