Archbishop of Calcutta on Catholics' Opposition to Anti-Conversion Bill

Hindu Fundamentalists Making Life Difficult

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ROME, JUNE 2, 2003 (ZENIT.org-Fides).- Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Calcutta knows about persecution of the Church.



In an interview with the Fides news service he talked about the difficult situation of Indian Christians, who constitute a little more than 2% of a population of 1 billion. He said Christians are concerned about Hindu fundamentalist groups inspired by ideological nationalism.

"These groups hinder our mission to spread the Good News: the Gospel, the Word of Salvation, Jesus Christ, is for all Indians," Archbishop Sirkar said.

"Although not all Hindus are fundamentalists, many fear conversions," he said. "Their idea of conversion is that by means of social service Christians draw people, lure them, to make the number of Christians increase. But this attitude of fear is unreasonable, because the conscience of every individual must be free.

"We have held meetings to explain conversion from the Christian point of view, and this helped many Hindus understand our position. However, they complain that other Christians engage in proselytism, especially Protestant groups which continue to spread and build churches regardless of the situation."

"This is why fundamentalists tend to group all Christians together and start persecution," the archbishop lamented. "Some states such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have approved an anti-conversion bill and this example is spreading to other states of the federation."

The Church strives to overcome fundamentalism, Archbishop Sirkar explained.

"As the Catholic bishops' conference, we have expressed opposition to this bill in an official statement, in which we call for respect for the freedom of conscience and fundamental rights of every individual," he said.

"We pray that God will help people understand the spirit of our work and we pray for our persecutors that they may come to understand and accept the Word of God," he added. "We also strive to make progress in peace building, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue with Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs.

"With all these religions we have meetings to discuss means of spreading peace and harmony through better mutual knowledge and understanding. We want every person to be free and happy."

Speaking of the situation in the Archdiocese of Calcutta, where there are 150,000 Catholics, the archbishop added: "To spread God's love, it is important to provide good formation for clergy and laity."

"Our archdiocese is well organized with 35 parishes engaged in various pastoral and social services," he said. "Unfortunately, we have only 72 priests, and so we are working hard among our young people to encourage vocations. Last year we enrolled 22 new minor seminarians.

"We work closely with our catechists who are the Church's arms: They reach the hearts of children and adults. It is very important to ensure proper formation for catechists. Every parish has at least two of them."

One of the greatest treasures of the Catholic community in Calcutta is the experience and heritage of Mother Teresa.

Archbishop Sirkar continued: "To understand the spirit of Mother Teresa we have to understand her love for the Eucharist. Her spirituality was totally eucharistic. The Eucharist is the starting point for every Catholic because it is the source of joy and peace.

"The Eucharist taught Mother Teresa and it teaches all of us how to sacrifice ourselves for others, how to become children of God. Mother Teresa was able to serve the poor, thanks to the Eucharist, and her courage to speak to everyone, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, came from the Eucharist. This is the great heritage left us by Mother Teresa!"

Preparations proceed for the beatification of Mother Teresa on Oct. 19 in Rome.

"The organizing committee is at work," the archbishop said. "Celebrations here in Calcutta will continue after the beatification to conclude on Nov. 9 with a solemn Mass in the presence of civil and religious authorities from all over India.

"Today Mother Teresa is a global mother; she belongs to the whole Church, the whole world. This is the work of God who is saving the world. It is up to us to discern God's intervention in human history."