MUMBAI, India, JUNE 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is reporting that an unprecedented Catholic-Hindu meeting in India has opened a new chapter in relations between the two faiths.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran affirmed this Tuesday in a Vatican Radio interview, after participating in a June 12 Catholic-Hindu summit in Mumbai.
In the two-hour meeting, Catholic and Hindu leaders discussed recent violence against Christians in that country.
The Union of Catholic Asian News reported that since last August, around 90 people, mostly Christians, were killed and thousands displaced during four months of violence in Orissa and other regions.
Jayendra Saraswathi, who is the current Sankaracharya of the Hindu monastic institution Kanchi matha, noted that these attacks were a reaction to “forced conversions,” and asked Church leaders that these acts be stopped.
The Kanchi matha is one of the most important religious institutions of South India, and the Sankaracharya is a leading religious figure in the nation.
Cardinal Tauran affirmed that for the Catholic Church, forced conversions have no value.
A Catholic participant who requested anonymity told UCA News that his delegation assured the Hindu leaders that the Church is not involved in these forced conversions, and has no control over the groups performing them. The Hindus responded that in this case, they want the other groups involved in dialogue as well.
Cardinal Tauran reported that there is a region in India where 160 churches are being constructed, which shows a growing presence of evangelical communities throughout the country. He explained, “It is evident that these are not Catholic churches, but rather buildings of Protestant headquarters.”
Therefore, the cardinal said, “I had to explain to one of the principal Hindu religious leaders the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant, and I have to confess that he did not have his ideas very clear in this sense.”
“Our meeting had the great advantage of clarifying some important points,” and above all of hearing that in general the Hindus “have nothing against the Catholics,” he affirmed. Rather, he noted, some fundamentalist groups are the ones who perpetrate the violence against Christians.
The Hindu leaders distanced themselves from the violent instigators, asserting that “this is not India; we are a peaceful people.”
The two delegations shared their concern over the violence perpetrated in the name of religion, and asked for respect for all faiths as the only way to guarantee harmony in the country’s multi-religious society.
After the discussion, the Catholic leaders witnessed a Hindu prayer in one of the temples, and the Hindus attended the celebration of vespers in the Mumbai cathedral.
The day passed in an environment of friendship, the cardinal noted, which is necessary for interreligious dialogue.
The prelate affirmed that the summit “opened a new chapter in the relations between Catholicism and Hinduism,” and that now it is up to the local communities to keep the dialogue alive.
Cardinal Tauran concluded the interview by inviting Christians in India to “not be afraid of showing themselves as Christians” because they “have been planted in this land of God in order to bring forth flowers.”
Along with the issues of violence against Christians and religious conversion, the meeting participants discussed cooperation in social work such as health and education.
In a press conference Jayendra Saraswathi and Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai reported some of the summit’s conclusions.
The Sankaracharya underlined the spiritual nature of India and the need to respect minorities, but emphasized the need for assurance that the Catholic Church would not “offend Hindu sensibilities.”
He called for Hindu organizations to educate their members so as to decrease conversions.
Cardinal Gracias reiterated that forced conversion does not happen in the Catholic Church: “It has no meaning, and is considered invalid.”
The archbishop of Mumbai called for a deepening of the “spirituality of our people,” added that “moral lessons should be included in the school syllabus to help children become better human beings.”