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Indian bishop urges religious leaders to bury differences

The Church in Karnataka is making a move toward inter-religious harmony as the state is now ruled by a secular party
Students of a government college in Udupi town in the southern Indian state of Karnataka arrive after reopening on Feb 16, 2022. Education institutions closed after a row over Muslim girls wearing the hijab in classrooms. Efforts to achieve peace between religious communities are underway with the formation of Sarvadharma Souharda Samiti (harmony committee of all religions) in Udupi.

Students of a government college in Udupi town in the southern Indian state of Karnataka arrive after reopening on Feb 16, 2022. Education institutions closed after a row over Muslim girls wearing the hijab in classrooms. Efforts to achieve peace between religious communities are underway with the formation of Sarvadharma Souharda Samiti (harmony committee of all religions) in Udupi. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 28, 2024 11:52 AM GMT
Updated: February 29, 2024 06:02 AM GMT

A Catholic bishop in the southern Indian state of Karnataka has appealed to religious leaders to leave behind their differences and work towards nation-building as the state is now led by a secular political party.

"There is a need for all religions to join for the formation of a new society," said Bishop Gerald Isaac Lobo of Udupi while addressing an interfaith meeting.

The bishop appealed while presiding over the meeting of the Sarvadharma Souharda Samiti (harmony committee of all religions) on Feb. 25.

“We can live as children of the same mother. Our actions will show that India is a garden of peace,” Lobo said.

"When there are flowers of different colors in a garden, its beauty increases," the prelate added.

The southern state was ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) till May last year and the coastal town of Udupi is a stronghold of hardline Hindu groups. 

Under the BJP, the Karnataka assembly passed an anti-conversion law in May 2022. However, the Congress party rolled back the law when it came to power.

“The pro-Hindu party wanted to divide people in the name of caste, creed and religion,” said Father Faustine Lucas Lobo, spokesperson of the Karnataka Catholic Bishops’ Council.

He told UCA News on Feb. 28 that Udupi had seen several sectarian incidents when the BJP was in power.

“Hence the bishop is leading from the front and taking the initiative,” the priest added.

Despite the change in government, a hardline Hindu group pressured a Catholic school to remove a nun from her teaching job alleging she spoke ill of Hindu deities and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Sister Mary Prabha Selvaraj, a teacher at St. Gerosa English Medium Higher Primary School, run by the Sisters of Charity in Mangaluru (formerly Mangalore), was removed on Feb. 12 following protests against her.

Lobo said another Hindu group in Kalaburagi district in north Karnataka in a police complaint accused a Christian nurse of aiding religious conversion on Feb. 22.

“The bold step [to hold interfaith meeting] comes on the backdrop of continued incidents of attacks on Christian people,” the priest said.

Father Denis Desa, parish priest of St. Anna’s church and a meeting organizer, said leaders of Hindu, Muslim, Protestant, and Sikh communities attended the event.

He said the diocese plans more such meetings, he told UCA News.

Ramesh Tingalaya, president of the Sarvadharma Souharda Samiti, said they have succeeded in bringing people in the area closer although the initiative was launched only five months ago.

“Programs like blood donation camps have been organized,” the Hindu leader said.

In 2021, Karnataka was ranked third among 28 Indian states that topped the list for persecution of Christians.

The New Delhi-based United Christian Forum (UCF), an ecumenical body has recorded 21 incidents of violence against Christians in the state in 2023.

India witnessed 720 attacks against Christians and their institutions including churches last year, according to UCF, which records anti-Christian incidents in India.

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