St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, mother church of the Archdiocese of Bangalore. / Saad Faruque via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Bengaluru, India, Oct 25, 2021 / 04:30 am (CNA).
A proposed survey of Christian missionaries and their places of worship could lead to church workers being “unfairly targeted,” a Catholic archbishop in India has said.
Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore made the statement on Oct. 15 in response to media reports that the state government of Karnataka, in southwest India, intended to undertake a survey as it deliberates over whether to pass an anti-conversion law.
“We consider this exercise as futile and unnecessary. There is no good that will come out of it,” the archbishop said.
“In fact, in the background of the conversion bogey and anti-religious feelings that are being whipped up, it is dangerous to make such surveys.”
“With this our community places of worship as also pastors and sisters will be identified and may be unfairly targeted. We are already hearing of such sporadic incidents in the north and in Karnataka.”
Eight of India’s 29 states have passed anti-conversion laws, aimed at preventing conversions from Hinduism to minority religions by “force” or “inducement.”
Christians comprise 2.3% of India’s population, according to the 2011 census, making it the third-largest religion after Hinduism (79.8%) and Islam (14.2%).
Machado, archbishop of Bangalore since 2018, asked why the state government wanted to single out Christian personnel and places of worship in the proposed survey.
He appealed to Basavaraj Bommai, the chief minister of Karnataka and a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), not to give in to “the pressures from fundamentalist groups, who wish to indulge in disturbing the peace, harmony, and peaceful co-existence.”
UCA News reported that the state government decided to conduct the survey on Oct. 13 after a BJP lawmaker claimed that conversions were widespread, saying that his mother had converted to Christianity.
The state of Karnataka has a population of 64 million people, 84% of whom are Hindus, 13% Muslims, and 2% Christian.
Machado, president of the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops’ Council, said in his message: “Let the government take the count of the educational institutions and health centers run by the Christian missionaries.”
“That will give a fair idea of the service that is rendered by the Christian community to the nation-building. How many people are converted in these places and institutions? If as alleged by some, Christians are converting indiscriminately, why the percentage of Christian population is reducing regularly when compared to the others?”
The archbishop, who is responsible for a 400,000-strong flock, underlined that the Church had always opposed “forceful, fraudulent, and incentivized conversions.”
He added that the Catholic community abided by the “supreme and sacred” Constitution of India.
He pointed out that Article 25 of the constitution guarantees “the right freely to profess, practice, and propagate religion.”
“Why do we need any anti-conversion laws when there are enough safeguards enshrined in the Constitution and the legal system of the country to punish the guilty?” Machado asked.
“Further laws will only be tools in the hands of a few to hound and persecute the innocent.”
The 67-year-old archbishop concluded: “The Christian community is patriotic, law-abiding and would like to be foremost in the service of the poor and downtrodden in the country. We need support and encouragement from the government.”