Blasphemous Image of Jesus Fuels Tension in India

Bishops Mark Difference Between Religion and Ideology

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NEW DELHI, India, FEB. 23, 2010 ( An image of Jesus holding a beer and a cigarette is the latest source of tensions between Christians and Hindu fundamentalists in India.

In the northwestern state of Punjab, the image — originally in a school textbook — was made poster-size and displayed on the streets. After Christian requests that the posters be taken down, violence erupted, according to L’Osservatore Romano.

The confrontations spread: Two Protestant churches were set on fire and pulled down, and another was seriously damaged.
Indian bishops launched an appeal for peace and announced plans to write a protest letter to education officials.
Father Babu Joseph, spokesman of the Indian episcopal conference, explained to Fides news agency that the publisher of the textbook — Skyline Publications of New Delhi — is not exactly «a direct expression of Hindu fundamentalist movements, but it certainly is sympathetic to them and is supported by certain rather extreme circles.»

The spokesman said the bishops «have condemned this blasphemous act and renew their appeal for peace in Punjab and across India.»

«Violence is followed by more violence and other Hindu extremist groups seek only a pretext to unleash vengeance on Christians,» he added. «[…] Making posters with the image and distributing them throughout the city was an operation conducted by Hindu fundamentalist groups to create tension. The state government has ensured that it will prosecute those responsible.»

The prelates are also asking the government to release the 25 Christians — including some Catholics — who were arrested following the clash.

Love your enemies

Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati expressed his hope for a peaceful solution.

The Indian episcopal conference today began their assembly precisely in Guwahati.

The prelate contended that religious symbols should be treated with sensitivity, referring to the crisis that broke out when Mohammed was portrayed in European cartoons.

But the prelate also opined that the majority of Hindus are not in favor of this type of disrespect.

«Hindu civilization is very respectful of its own and others’ religious symbols,» Archbishop Menamparampil said. «Together with Christians, many Hindu religious leaders condemned the blasphemous images and they were joined by Muslim leaders of India. I don’t think this case will have more serious consequences.
«I want to reaffirm to young people and to all Christians in India the message that Jesus brings in the Gospel: Love your enemies, also when you feel persecuted, humiliated, oppressed. It’s not easy to do, but it’s possible. Love is able to disarm the enemy. Our vocation is to build bridges and open doors of dialogue and hope for our nation.»

L’Osservatore Romano reported that the assembly of the Indian episcopate in Guwahati will address, among other issues, the hindutva ideology and its repercussions on the peaceful coexistence of religious communities in India.
The prelates affirmed the importance of distinguishing «the fundamental differences between Hinduism as such and the hindutva ideology: Hinduism is a religion, whereas hinduvta refers to the political dimensions of a cultural nationalism carried out by followers of this ideology.»

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