E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank India: Unity Urged Against Christianity
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Source: The Associated Press
Date: 11/20/99
Unity Urged Against Christianity

By HEMA SHUKLA

LUMBINI, Nepal (AP) - India's religious communities are looking for ways to unite to preserve their identities in the face of aggressive Christian proselytizing, Hindu religious leaders said today.

Pope John Paul II's recent call for missionaries to spread Catholicism in Asia has sparked a sense of crisis among the Hindu religious leaders gathered in Lumbini, for the fourth International Conference of Great Religions in Asia. Many religious leaders referred to Christian missionary activity during their speeches on "Karuna or Compassion in Hinduism and Buddhism," the official theme of the conference.

"We have to unite to face the assault" of Christianity, said Acharya Dharmendra, a policymaker for the World Hindu Council.

During the conference, this small town close to the Nepal-India border has been overwhelmed with saffron- or ochre-robed Buddhist and Hindu ascetics, many of them in dreadlocks or with tonsured heads. Huge kitchens under colorful tents have been set up to cook vegetarian meals for the more than 1,000 delegates from across Asia.

Relations between Christians and Hindus in India had been cordial for centuries. But over the last year, Christian groups have recorded more than a hundred attacks against them, and they have blamed radical Hindu groups for the assaults.

The Indian government says the figures are exaggerated. It attributes most of the attacks to land disputes or local issues. Hindu organizations say attacks that took place were triggered by aggressive proselytizing by Christian missionaries who offer inducements to gain converts.

Hindu leaders said tension between the two communities was heightened by the pope, who visited New Delhi earlier this month and urged his bishops to spread the Christian faith in Asia. The World Hindu Council estimates there are 4,500 foreign Christian missionaries in India - not to mention 120,000 Indian missionaries and 65,000 nuns.

"That's larger than the army of Pakistan," Dharmendra said.

Delegates privately said they were taking steps to deal with what they called a challenge to their religions.

Already, the Hindu council has 1,600 single-teacher schools in rural and tribal areas across India and is planning another 2,000 schools within a year. In addition, 10,000 Hindu preachers are being trained to spread out across the country and strengthen the Hindu faith among the people, leaders said.

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