Indian Prelate Advocates Religious Freedom

Says People Can’t Be Forced into Catholicism

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MUMBAI, India, OCT. 19, 2009 ( Faced to the possibility of anti-conversion laws in India, the archbishop of Mumbai is emphasizing the basic human right of freedom of religion.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias stated this Sunday in the closing address of an Indian Mission Congress, called a «Prabhu Yesu Mahotsav» (Lord Jesus Festival).

The event, which began Wednesday and ended on World Mission Sunday, centered on the theme, «Let Your Light Shine: Become the Message and the Messenger.»

In his address, the prelate affirmed, «We only want to serve, to do what Jesus told us to, living out the Beatitudes, loving and serving everyone and making the world a better place,» AsiaNews reported.

In this way, he encouraged the Catholics in India, while extending a message of solidarity with the «brothers and sisters of other religions.»

The cardinal challenged the 1,500 congress participants from 160 dioceses of India to «go home with the urgency to testify and be changed by Jesus.»

These days, he affirmed, have been spent «in the presence of the Lord» and «listening to the story of Jesus’ presence in the Church in India.»

Cardinal Gracias asserted, «The Church is not a political party,» and does not seek «power and prestige, or to increase the number of the faithful to exert more influence.»

Rather, he said, we aim to become «more and more like Christ.» He added, «To be messengers of Jesus, we ourselves become its message with our lives.»

Societal fears

The cardinal addressed the «fear of conversions» present in Indian society, AsiaNews reported.

He noted that some government authorities wish to introduce anti-conversion laws, but he stressed the fact that «forced conversions,» often blamed on Christians, «are meaningless» for the Catholic Church.

Not only do the Vatican Council documents speak «clearly» against them, the prelate said, but also, «for Christians conversion is primarily a transformation of the heart.»

He explained that for this reason «the Church imposes a long period of catechumenate to test the sincerity of those seeking baptism.»

Cardinal Gracias underlined the «human right» to religious freedom and conversion, which is recognized as a «sacred right in our Constitution.»

He asserted: «No civil authority has the right to enter the shrine which is the conscience of every single person, let alone to decide what a conscience should say. No government can come into my soul and stop my conscience saying ‘you cannot change your religion.'»

The cardinal concluded by expressing solidarity with those Christians who suffered violent attacks last year in Orissa. «We find true inspiration in the events of your martyrdom,» he said.

The prelate called on the authorities to «not forget your constitutional duty to protect minorities: Christians, Muslims and even Hindus where they are minority.»

This event was a follow-up of the 2006 Asian Mission Congress in Thailand, where participants stated as a goal to hold similar conferences on national, regional and diocesan levels.

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