Stung by persistent criticism of Hindu activists that Christian missionaries in India are pressuring and inducing poor Hindus to convert to Christianity, the Vatican threw the gauntlet at Hindus on the eve of the Diwali festival.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue said on Monday:
Belief and freedom always go together. There can be no coercion in religion: no one can be forced to believe, neither can anyone who wishes to believe be prevented from doing so.
Although Christians account for just 2.3% of India’s population of 1.1 billion people, they’ve faced criticism for several decades from Hindus (80.5% of the population) that missionaries have engaged in converting the poor Hindus through pressure and various inducements.
SomeÂ Hindus derogatarily refer to new Christians as “rice converts” suggesting that the poor have been bribed with some rice to renounce their faith and embrace Christianity.
If Hindus can be swayed to desert their faith with a few morsels of rice, it’s a sad reflection on the failure of the Indian state to provide the most basic needs of its citizens.
Cardinal Tauran went on to add in his note to Hindus:
Allow me to reiterate the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which is quite clear on this point: â€œIt is one of the major tenets of Catholic doctrine that manâ€™s response to God in faith must be free. Therefore no one is to be forced to embrace the faith against his own willâ€ (Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, 10).Â
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran asked both Hindus and Christians not to be misled:
Our respective communities must pay urgent attention to the education of believers, who can so easily be misled by deceitful and false propaganda.
Cardinal Tauran ended his first message to Hindus since he took over as president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue with Diwali greetings to Hindus.
Diwali, the festival of lights, is one of the biggest festivals for Hindus across India as well as for the Great Indian Diaspora.