Anti-Conversion Law Wrong Path, Says Bishop

Sri Lankan Christians Promote Dialogue

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 9, 2005 ( A proposed anti-conversion bill in Sri Lanka is a sensitive issue that could threaten national harmony, said the president of the bishops’ conference of the island country.

Archbishop Vianney Fernando of Kandy, in Rome on a five-yearly visit to the Holy See, commented to Fides news agency on the reasons behind this bill, and the possible consequences.

«Over the past thirty years a proliferation of fundamentalist Christian sects in Sri Lanka has irritated the island’s Buddhist majority,» said the archbishop.

Christian sects, explained the prelate, often resorted to questionable methods of gaining new members, and this has led some Buddists to «accuse all Christians in general of proselytizing and using unethical means to obtain forced conversions.»

The anti-conversion bill was proposed last year in Sri Lanka’s Parliament, immediately causing concern among the Christian leaders on the island.

The Supreme Court in Sri Lanka finally denounced the law as contrary to the Constitution and «fundamental rights and freedoms,» but the bill has been resurrected again.

«If the government insists, we will protest vigorously,» said Archbishop Fernando. «Together with the other Christian communities in Sri Lanka, we have decided to issue a statement to say that we too are against ‘unethical conversions.’

«Every authentic conversion of the heart is a matter between the person and God alone and the Church will always defend and promote total freedom of conscience.

«It is our firm belief that these problems will be solved not with a law to restrict freedom but with dialogue and application of the existing laws.»

With the support of the most influential Buddhists in Sri Lanka, the Church is proposing the institution of an interreligious council, with members appointed by parliament, who will look into other possible solutions.

«Let us try this path before approving laws of this nature,» said the archbishop.

«The question of conversion is one of the most sensitive for the Church today. In our country, the rule is pluralism, and we must not allow national harmony to be destroyed,» he said.

The archbishop said that he understands the Buddhists’ position, «but it is necessary to build bridges with dialogue. And this law is an attack on national harmony.»

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