Interfaith dialogue: in whose interest? - III
by B R Haran on 20 Jun 2009 3 Comments

The interfaith dialogue, Mumbai
As the despicable actions of different Christian denominations continued unabatedly, including alleged complicity in the murder of Hindu saints in Orissa and the blasphemous distortions of Hindu sacred scriptures in Karnataka, the majority community spontaneously reacted with a vengeance as the acts went beyond the limits of tolerance. As expected, the Church played victim and projected Hindus as communal marauders.

The UPA government and the ‘secular’ media also projected the Hindu majority in a bad light, and the Prime Minister shocked the nation by slavishly assuring the French President instead of telling him not to interfere in India’s internal affairs. The secular brigade’s act of internationalising India’s domestic issues resulted in the proposed visit of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to Gujarat and Orissa. 

However, the Church realised its nefarious activities could have dangerous repercussions and resorted to its trusted method of “interfaith dialogue” to mollify the majority community. An interfaith dialogue was organised in Mumbai on 12-13 June, and the Vatican sent Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interfaith Dialogue.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Indian Bible fame played a pivotal role in arranging this conference and Pedro Lopez Quintana, Vatican envoy to India, Archbishop Felix Machado of Nashik, Bishop Thomas Dabre of Pune, and Bishop Raphy Manjaly of Varanasi, also attended. The Catholic leaders had invited His Holiness Kanchi Sankaracharya Sri Jayendra Saraswati, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Swami Vageeshananda (Ramakrishna Mission), Dadi Janakiji (Prajapati Brahma Kumaris), Swami Nirmalananda Nath (Karnataka), and Swami Chidananda Saraswati (Divine Life Society, Uttaranchal). 

Lessons for the Church

The presence of Advani acolyte Sudheendra Kulkarni (who also mysteriously appeared at the May 2006 interfaith dialogue in Italy) at the invitation of Cardinal Oswald Gracias, and the conspicuous absence of some prominent personalities, suggested careful vetting and screening of invitees. Nonetheless, the leadership of Kanchi Acharya was the most significant aspect of this meeting, as he not only had the stature but also the knowledge and understanding of issues involved, along with the required solutions. He also has the capacity to articulate convincingly to arrive at an amicable solution. 

As the deliberations centered round communal conflicts, the cause of conflict was examined - conversions. His Holiness Sankaracharya opened the proceedings by bringing out the fact that during Pope Benedict XVI’s recent visit to Jerusalem and interfaith dialogue with Jewish religious leaders, the Pope gave an undertaking that, “henceforth it would desist from all missionary and conversion activities” among the Jews. Swami Jayendra Saraswati demanded a similar pact with the Hindu community in India. 

The Acharya underscored the importance of faithful adherence to points agreed at the meeting; else failure would result in the futility of such meetings. He reiterated that the Church must reassure the Hindus that it would not hurt their sentiments and wound their sensibilities. Quoting Pope John Paul II’s call for planting the Cross in Asia to cause the Second Coming of Jesus, he demanded that the Vatican to explain the rationale for the first coming of Jesus Christ when there was no Christianity or Church to undertake the mission of christianising the world.

Kanchi Acharya strongly condemned the proposed visit of the USCIRF and said that Hindus would not permit such interference in the internal affairs of India. He demanded the setting up of a common pool to collect all foreign funds received by the Church, in order to distribute the same among all social welfare organisations, irrespective of religious affiliation. Calling upon all Hindu organisations to work together to eradicate the menace of conversion, he advised Indians to live with mutual respect and harmony in a shared sense of nationalism which should bind all as one nation, irrespective of religious affiliation.

He called for the immediate stoppage of all devious ‘inculturation’ methods being adopted by various Christian denominations and the practice of preaching that conversion to Christianity would cure all diseases, which is violative of the DRUGS AND MAGIC REMEDIES ACT, 1954. He welcomed the proposed anti-conversion law in Sri Lanka, mooted by the Joint Council of Buddhist Organisations, and strongly endorsed it as an essential measure. 

Emphasising Sanatana Dharma, he said the soul of India  is religious and spiritual, and urged the government to declare India a “Spiritual” country, not a “Secular” country, as secularism is an administrative quality and cannot be the soul of the nation. Kanchi Perivaar also condemned the usurping of Hindu scriptures for incorporating them in the so-called ‘Indian Bible’ and demanded immediate withdrawal of copies of the book; he demanded that government do the needful.   

Cardinal lies        

During the press conference at the end of the meeting, Cardinal Oswald Gracious, the brain behind the “Indian Bible,” denied any knowledge about it! Shri P. Deivamuthu, Editor of the Mumbai-based monthly magazine “Hindu Voice,” expressed shock:
I attended the Press Conference, held today (12th June 2009) at 3.30 p.m. at the Shanmukhananda Hall, King Circle, Mumbai, addressed by Kanchi Shankaracharya Swamiji and the Archbishop of Mumbai, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, subsequent to the Inter-Religious Dialogue held at the same venue.

After their Press Briefing, when question time arrived, I put a question to Cardinal Oswald Gracias: ‘In the Indian Community Bible released by Mumbai Catholic Church, you have included hundreds of verses from Vedas and Upanishads. Does this not amount to stealing the intellectual property of Hindus?’ The answer given by the Cardinal was ‘I am not aware of this

Having himself released the Book - The New Community Bible - the Cardinal had the temerity to say he was not aware of it, in the presence of 30-odd journalists and photographers. If this is not a blatant lie, what is it?

My subsequent question was: ‘Does that mean that Bible was written by human beings, and has nothing to do with Jesus Christ?’ His answer was: ‘It was spoken by the God and written by people.’” 

Nevertheless, it remains undeniable that the Catholic leaders were taken aback by Kanchi Acharya’s élan and subtle and strong articulation. They promptly put the blame for conversions on other Christian denominations and joined the Acharya in condemning conversions by force and allurement. They agreed to bring the Protestants and other denominations for any future dialogue. 

It is learnt that the Church leaders are now awaiting the verdict of the USCIRF, which may visit India in coming weeks, unless advised otherwise by the UPA. They are keen that USCIRF help their ‘cause.’ Controversial characters like Orissa Archbishop Raphael Cheenath also pinned his hopes on the visit, saying it could be pivotal in restricting ‘violence’ and ensuring ‘protection’ of minorities.
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Future course of action

The just concluded Hindu-Catholic dialogue is truly significant in the sense that this is the first time the Hindu side has been categorical, authoritative, and to the point, and the Catholic Church has been shown its place in a religiously diplomatic manner.

It now depends on the Church to make the meeting meaningful by abiding with the agreements. Unfortunately, the track record of the Church is not encouraging. And when the political class, particularly the UPA regime and ‘secular’ media are hand in glove with the Church, nothing constructive can be expected in future. Anyway, the onus lies squarely on the Church and one can only hope it realises the importance of communal amity and acts accordingly. 

All Hindu religious, cultural and service organisations also have a huge responsibility to work towards a Hindu renaissance. Sadly, the Hindu community remains content in caste, linguistic and sectarian grooves, ceding ground to other faiths in the public domain.

Hindus need to channel the energies of their respective caste, sampradaya, language group, to a pan-India Hindu cause, to protect the Hindu bhoomi as the only motherland. 

Conversion is the ‘root cause’ of all problems; it shatters peace and harmony. Christians of all denominations must be made to respect the Constitution and stop ‘conversions’ and other evangelical activities with immediate effect. They must also be prohibited from constructing new Churches and Prayer Houses, which have already far exceeded the flock, much like the disproportionate assets of politicians! Their evangelical congregations must be allowed only in their own premises and not in public places. The masses must be made aware of the covert means of conversion and a strict vigil maintained on the activities of dubious organizations.  

Nepal, once a Hindu kingdom, is fast becoming a Christian nation because of losing its ‘soul.’ Sri Lanka, however, has realized the Christian threat and readied itself to deal with it. India must act like Sri Lanka. The Kanchi Acharya has paved the way and it is the duty of other Hindu organisations to follow suit. 

The author is a senior journalist; he lives in Chennai

[This article series was written before the proposed visit of USCIRF to India was called off – Editor]

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