Indian Bishops Reject Conversions by Force

Meeting of Members of Episcopal Conference Concludes

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MADURAI, India, JAN. 22, 2003 ( Though charged with the duty to preach the Gospel, the Church does not «believe nor indulge in conversions by force, fraud or allurement,» say India’s bishops.

Last week 116 archbishops and bishops, members of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, gathered at St. Paul’s Seminary, in Tiruchirapalli, to deliberate on the theme «Sharing the Good News.»

In its final statement, the bishops’ conference stated: «Evangelization is to bring the Good News of Jesus into all areas of humanity and through its impact to transform society from within, making it new,» according to SAR Catholic News agency.

The statement added: «Proclamation is the essential activity of the Church. We are not Christ’s disciples if we do not proclaim his message. It is, moreover, a human right. This proclamation obviously leaves people free to respond. The Church does not believe nor indulge in conversions by force, fraud or allurement.»

The bishops’ statement continues: «Certain positive developments encourage the Church in her task of evangelization: the emergence, for example, of a new kind of ‘discipleship’ in the form of khrist-bhaktas; a wave of fresh enthusiasm, especially among young people, to carry out the Lord’s command of preaching the Gospel to all nations — evidenced by movements like Jesus-Youth and others.»

This enthusiasm has been fueled by Charismatic Renewal, by the steady growth of Basic Christian Communities and Basic Human Communities and by liturgical and biblical movements, the bishops observed.

They also noted with concern the «various factors which hamper the Church in the task of evangelization.»

Some of these factors lie within the Church: the vestiges of casteism and discrimination among Christians; a certain hesitation to proclaim Jesus as the unique Savior; and a preoccupation among some Church personnel with non-pastoral tasks, the statement pointed out.

Outside factors hurting the Church’s mission include «the ominous rise of militant fundamentalism of different brands, [and] the resurgence of a mono-cultural militant nationalism, which identifies Indian-ness with one culture and religion.»

The statement said Church personnel must respectfully study the diverse cultures as they are lived in different pastoral contexts, being sensitive to ethnic, tribal and Dalit groups. «Study of cultural anthropology and ethnic psychology, carried out at the diocesan or regional levels, will be of great assistance in the pastoral field,» it said.

The media can be a powerful tool for the proclamation of the Good News, the conference statement noted.

«Modern information technologies, such as the Internet, are new forums for proclaiming the Gospel, for making our voice heard on social issues, human rights and people’s problems,» the bishops emphasized.

«Hence, we need to integrate these media and technologies into the Church’s ministry, improving the Church’s present communication channels such as newsletters, periodicals, Web sites, etc., to make them more effective channels of communication,» their statement said.

The bishops, who visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Health in Velankanni, said: «We conclude: Difficulties, oppositions and even persecution will not deter us. Our response to all these is our constant love and prayer and a greater commitment to our services to our countrymen, especially the poor and the voiceless.»

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