Baha'i News -- India snubs Pope on eve of visit

India snubs Pope on eve of visit

Suzanne Goldenberg in New Delhi

Saturday October 30, 1999

The Indian government yesterday snubbed an invitation from the Pope to attend a multi-faith gathering to be held during his visit next week.

The vice-president, Krishan Kant, declined to preside over the Pope's meeting on November 6 with Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, Bahai and Jewish leaders, because that would violate India's secular creed, the foreign ministry said.

Yesterday, the All-India Catholic Union said it was "unhappy, but not surprised" that Mr Kant was not attending.

His refusal follows a campaign against the Papal visit by Hindu fundamentalist groups allied to the Bharatiya Janata party, which heads India's governing coalition.

During the last two weeks, Hindu fundamentalists have burnt effigies of the Pope and embarked on a long march from Goa, the former Portuguese colony, to demand an apology for horrors visited on Hindus during the Inquisition.

Hindu hardliners accuse Catholic and Protestant missionaries of paying poor Hindus to convert to Christianity.

The fundamentalists fear that Hinduism could in this way be destroyed in India by Christians.

The issue of "forcible conversions" has been cited as an excuse for a wave of vicious attacks on Christians - more than 120 in the last year, according to official statistics. Nuns have been sexually attacked, priests have been murdered and church schools have been burnt down.

Church leaders are confident that the government will provide adequate security for the Pope. But there is mounting concern about the security of India's 23m Christians following the Pope's visit.

©Copyright 1999, Guardian (UK)

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