Rock Ronald Rozario
Updated: November 30, 2021 07:12 AM GMT
Sister Martha Park Byongsuk enjoys a midday meal with the children at St. Paul’s Happy Home in Pokhara Bus-Park slum in Nepal. She and her companion were detained over religious conversion charges. (Photo: globalsistersreport.org)
A court in Nepal has granted bail to two South Korean missionary nuns more than two months after they were arrested on charges of allegedly converting Hindus by coercion and allurement.
The higher court in Pokhara district, about 200 kilometers from capital Kathmandu, accepted a bail petition and ordered the release of Sister Gemma Lucia Kim and Sister Martha Park Byongsuk as well as two other South Korean Christian volunteers on Nov. 18, a Catholic Church official confirmed to UCA News.
The detainees were due to be released from jail on Nov. 19 after the completion of formalities.
The official, who requested anonymity, said the Church had to appeal to the higher court as a lower court had denied them bail.
“The higher court has today ordered them to be released on bail, so the case will go back to the lower district court level again. The nuns and two others will be out but they will have to appear for hearings in the lower district court on given dates,” the official said on Nov. 18.
Father Silas Bogati, vicar general of the Apostolic Vicariate of Nepal, confirmed the bail and thanked Catholics for their prayers for their release.
The nuns have been running St. Paul's Happy Home, a center for accommodation, food, education, medical services and skills training for about 120 slum children
“Thank you for praying for the Korean sisters and volunteers. They got bail finally. Thank you all for praying,” Father Bogati said in a message shortly after bail was granted.
The nuns from the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres congregation, who have been working with slum children in Pokhara, were arrested on Sept. 14 along two other Koreans — a lay Catholic and a Protestant pastor.
They were accused of the attempted conversion of Hindus in the guise of charity by an unknown complainant under Nepal’s stringent anti-conversion law.
The nuns have been running St. Paul's Happy Home, a center for accommodation, food, education, medical services and skills training for about 120 slum children in Pokhara.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, they have distributed food rations to poor, vulnerable people in the town. Some locals accused them of providing food to lure Hindus to become Catholics.
Nepal is a former Hindu kingdom and its 2015 constitution declares the state as a secular democracy. According to the 2011 census, about 81 percent of Nepal’s 29 million people are Hindu, Buddhists account for 9 percent, Muslims 4.4 percent and Christians 1.4 percent.
There are about 10,000 Catholics in Nepal, church sources say. Altogether, an estimated 1.5 million Christians are in Nepal, according to an official from Nepal Christian Society.
The World Database of Christians records Nepal’s Christian community as one of the fastest growing in the world.
Christian groups and rights watchdogs have reported increasing hostility and persecution against Christians in Nepal in recent times, especially since Nepal amended its century-old Penal Code in 2018 that bans proselytization and conversion to other faiths from Hinduism.
Apart from the four Koreans, nine Christian men and women are facing anti-conversion cases in Nepal, according to Nepal Christian Society.
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