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Catholic social work takes interreligious shape in India

Catholics are criticized for using social service delivery as a facade for religious conversion

Catholic social work takes interreligious shape in India

The interfaith team distributing relief aid in Morigaon district of Assam Aug. 5. Caritas India has involved people from other religions in its relief work after it was accused of using the situation for religious conversions. (Photo courtesy of Caritas India)

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi
India

August 11, 2017

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Indian Catholic agencies' provision of relief and rehabilitation to disaster victims has taken on an interreligious dimension.

This comes amid criticism that Catholics are purportedly using social service delivery as a facade for religious conversion.

Caritas India has involved Hindu and Muslim leaders in providing help to victims of floods in northeastern Assam state where suffering continues from a June-July deluge.

"When a disaster hits, expression of humanity is the biggest religion," said Father Frederick D'Souza, director of Caritas India.

Some people engaged in unnecessary "fear mongering" by putting doubts into the minds of others about motives. "All this can be avoided when partnering with interfaith groups," Father D'Souza said.

He spoke to ucanews.com after touring flood-affected districts of Assam as part of an interfaith delegation. The interfaith team for the Aug.4-6 visits included officials from Rama Krishna Mission, the Hindu nuns' group Brahmakumaris and Islamic Relief.

Despite transparency measures, Caritas India has time and again been accused of ulterior religious motives in some areas of India, Father D'Souza said.

The latest accusation is contained in a twitter comment about a video that the organization produced explaining how it is responding to problems faced by flood survivors in Assam.

The tweet reads, "Sites of #NaturalDisasters are opportunities for Christian #SoulVultures."

Most social action programs of the Catholic Church in India are carried out by diocesan social services agencies, which are branch offices of the national-level Caritas.

The diocesan agencies are also guided by Caritas India, which functions under the Indian Catholic bishops' conference, making it the work of the entire church in India.

Father D'Souza clarified that working with interfaith groups might not be necessary every time there is a need as in some communities trust had already been established. But in some sensitive locations, social work needed to evolve as an interreligious affair, he said. "If a community does not accept us, we would not be able to reach out to them," he said. 

 

The interreligious reach out

Father D'Souza said church people touring affected areas, along with Hindu and Muslim representatives, distributed relief supplies in Assam.

Caritas India public relations officer Amrit Sangma told ucanews.com that the presence of leaders of other religions showed that relief work had no ulterior intention of securing religious conversions.

Officials of the State Disaster Management Agency also visited flood the affected district of Morigaon and distributed relief material to the flood victims, giving the work a feeling of state collaboration and approval, Sangma said.

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