Mumbai, Jun 13: "No violence against minorities. No forced conversions. A pooling of resources for social work and charity.'' These were three main points agreed on at a path-breaking Hindu-Catholic dialogue between religious leaders from both creeds held in Mumbai on Friday.
Those involved in the landmark two-hour inter-faith conversation that took place behind closed doors at the Shanmukhananda premises near Sion included the Sankaracharya of Kanchi, Sri Jayendra Saraswati and Catholic leaders led by the Vatican's head for inter-religious dialogue, Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, and Cardinal Oswald Gracias from Mumbai.
The three meeting points came after intense discussions on minority relations in the country which were once harmonious but have been under strain and even marred by serious violence (Khandmal in Orissa and church attacks in Mangalore) in the last decade. The post-1998 deterioration had troubled many liberal-minded citizens from both faiths and this dialogue was an attempt to break down suspicions and mistrust on either side.
The meeting took place at the instance of the Pontifical Council for Inter Religious Dialogue headed by Cardinal Tauran who said it was a good beginning.
Each side had one main concern: for the Catholics it was violent attacks against Christians, the clergy and their places of worship and on the Hindu side it was the issue of forced conversions. Speaking at a joint press conference soon after the talks, Jayendra Saraswati said they had agreed that no violence should take place against minorities as India was a deeply spiritual country. He added that instead of being called `secular', India should be called `spiritual'.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who addressed the press with Jayendra Saraswati, came out strongly against forced conversions and said it went against the teaching of the Church.
While the broad brush strokes were all about bonhomie and building bridges, the fine print subtly but firmly established orthodox boundaries. The Kanchi Sankaracharya's press statement that was issued later contained eleven points, most of which were critical of conversion. He made a reference to the Pope's recent visit to Israel and his assurance that "the Catholic Church would desist from all missionary and conversion activities among the Jews''. The Sankaracharya also made it clear that he did not approve of conversions and foreign funds for running educational and charity projects.
At the press conference, he came out strongly against the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which was sending a team to India.
Speaking about the dialogue meeting, Bishop Thomas Dabre of Pune said that Cardinal Tauran had spelt out the agenda at the outset. How do we stop the spate of violence across the country and work more for understanding and development and deepen an inter-faith dialogue? Sudheendra Kulkarni, a senior BJP member who was present, said these are "beginnings which will pave the way for greater understanding''.