Episcopate Hits Arrest of 4 Missionaries of Charity

Nuns Accused of Proselytizing the Sick

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HYDERABAD, India, JULY 3, 2006 (Zenit.org).- An Indian episcopate official said that allegations against four Missionaries of Charity regarding forced conversions "are utterly baseless and unjust."



On June 25 a crowd of Hindus set upon the four nuns in a hospital and had them arrested on charges of proselytism and conversion of the sick.

The nuns were attacked as they went about their weekly visit in a hospital in the city of Tirupati, a Hindu pilgrimage site in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, the AsiaNews agency reported Friday.

The four women religious were in the government hospital of Ruia, where they usually spend time with patients who are terminally ill with AIDS.

A group of around 50 members of the Hindu Dharma Parirakshana Samithi, a self-styled group for the defense of the Hindu religion, broke into the hospital, detained the four sisters and accused them of trying to convert patients.

A crowd swelled rapidly and soon there were around 300 people. They forced the nuns to remain in the hospital until 8:30 p.m. Then the police arrived and took the women into custody, AsiaNews said.

Archbishop Oswald Gracias of Agra, president of the Social Communications Commission of the Indian bishops' conference, said, "This tragic attack … is shocking and has to be condemned in the strongest terms. The allegations of conversions are utterly baseless and unjust.

"I emphatically state that no religious congregation indulges in conversions and Mother Teresa's sisters are known to be doing exclusively social work, hence there is absolutely no room for misunderstanding on this point."

Released

Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad told AsiaNews: "The sisters have official government permission to visit the wards, which they have done every Sunday for the past 20 years. The sisters, in agreement with the hospital administration, have welcomed these dying patients into their homes, where they can die surrounded by dignity and love."

As soon as the prelate heard the news he immediately called the chief minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, and the director general of police, S. Sen, both of them Christians.

"I rushed to the prison, where I managed to get the sisters released at 10:30 p.m.," the archbishop said. "The nuns were terrified and trembling because of the climate of intimidation all around the police station. The police even defied a Supreme Court directive that women should not be taken into custody between sunset and sunrise."

Archbishop Joji pointed out that "in Andhra Pradesh, there is no anti-conversion law" and that the Indian Constitution guarantees religious freedom.

"As Christians we forgive the aggressors, but as metropolitan archbishop, I have the duty to protect the faith and its witnesses," he said. "Hence, I have appealed to our Chief Minister to investigate this atrocity and to arrest the culprits."