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Archbishop vs VHP on Pope John Paul II's India visit

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-----Original Message-----
From: Ashok Chowgule <ashokvc@giasbm01.vsnl.net.in>
To: AAAAshok Chowgule <ashokvc@vsnl.com>
Date: Wednesday, October 27, 1999 5:36 PM
Subject: VHP response to the Archbishop

>From: Ashok Chowgule, Mumbai.
> President, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Maharashtra,
>27 October, 1999.
>Enclosed please find an article by the Archbishop of Delhi that
>appeared in The Hindustan Times, along with a response prepared by Dr
>Pravinbhai Togadial, Secretary-General of the VHP. The response has
>been sent to The Hindustan Times. We do not know if and when it will
>be published. Since the matter is of current information, we thought
>of sharing the material with you.
>Ashok Chowgule.
>Title: Guest Column: Indians don't treat guests like this
>Author: Archbishop Alan de Lastic
>Publication: The Hindustan Times
>Date: October 24, 1999
>We are very happy that Pope John Paul II is visiting India. He has
>always had a very high regard for the Indian people, and for Asians in
>general, because Asia is the cradle of world religions and India has
>the largest number of believers belonging to great religions. We would
>like to emphasise that Jesus was born in Asia and he belongs to our
>Asian continent.
>The question is: Why has the Pope chosen to visit India now? For the
>last 10 years, almost the entire church has been preparing to
>celebrate the entry into the third millennium and the birth of Jesus
>Christ who, we believe, is the saviour of the world. So the year 2000
>is important not because of the calendar alone but also because it
>marks the birth of Jesus Christ.
>In order to prepare for this, bishops of different continents have
>come together during the last few years, and put forward proposals on
>how we can be better Christians, how we can proclaim the message of
>Christ in word and deed, and how we can live as Christ lived loving
>the poor, fighting for justice and always forgiving. These are virtues
>which are essential for Christians. This is the spirit of renewal.
>Last year, North and South America had these renewal meetings. Six
>months later, they met in Mexico at the shrine of Lady of Guadeloupe
>where the Assembly for America concluded. Something similar is
>happening for Asia. Last year, Catholic bishops met in Rome to prepare
>a draft. The Holy Father will now promulgate the draft in India.
>China's name was also proposed for this purpose, but it refused. I
>don't know the real reason, but I am told the Chinese are not too
>happy with the Vatican's recognition of Taiwan. Thus, the choice fell
>on India. The Pope is coming to Delhi to solemnly conclude the
>Assembly of Bishops and promulgate the document called Apostolic
>Exhortation. This ceremony will take place on November 6.
>All this might sound smooth and simple but it isn't. The Pope's visit
>to India is being opposed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the
>Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. I will now respond to the two issues the
>VHP has raised one, that the Pope should come here as head of a state
>and not of a religion; two, he should declare that Christianity is not
>the only way to salvation. For the first point, my initial reaction is
>that you cannot cut the Pope in half and say that now you are acting
>as head of a state and now of a religion. As head of state he will be
>calling on the President of India; he did it the last time too. His
>other engagements are purely religious. As for the second issue, who
>is the VHP to impose its views on the Pope? Suppose a Swamiji is going
>to the US and the government there asks him to state certain things
>which go against his religious beliefs, will he agree?
>The Pope is a free man; why impose restrictions on his freedom of
>speech? Everybody is fighting for freedom of speech, then why should
>the Pope be muzzled and forced to become the mouthpiece of the VHP and
>RSS? I have never told the RSS what to say. Why then should they tell
>us? I am an Indian and know what to say or not to say. I have the
>right to preach, propagate and profess my religious belief subject to
>law and order. I don't see why they should impose restrictions on me.
>I resent this as an Indian.
>I grew up in India where there is religious freedom. Very few
>countries in the world enjoy this freedom. This is something we should
>treasure. We should try to see the positive side of smaller religions
>rather than harp on the negative aspect all the time. I am very sad
>and ashamed. This is not the way Indians treat their guests.
>Why are the RSS and VHP frightened? The Holy Father might have said
>something with which the Sangh Parivar does not agree, but then you
>can't restrict his freedom. Do I fight when the Shankaracharyas say
>things against us? If Hindus believe that all religions are equal and
>lead to the same God, I can't understand why they object to
>conversions. How does it matter if you choose a vehicle different from
>Hinduism? Let an individual be free to choose his religion. We believe
>that all people who out of free will are convinced that the path they
>have chosen is the way to God, will definitely be saved. Christians
>preach in that way and this is their belief. We propose and do not
>impose and we do it with great humanity.
>This is not all. They accuse us of taking advantage of illiterate
>villagers and tribals. I think this is a big insult to the Indian
>people, particularly tribals and villagers. They are the same people
>to whom politicians run during elections, they are the same people who
>are known for their political maturity. How is it possible that people
>who are credited with intelligence, discrimination and discernment in
>choosing their leaders, will be naive in opting for their religion?
>While I write this, attacks on Christians continue unabated. I am
>tired. People say there is a grand design behind these attacks. I
>don't know. If the Sangh has to live on this, what can I do? How come
>it has never uttered one word of praise for our work in the fields of
>health, education and human development? I can only ask its members to
>have peace. I'm against any religion attacking any other religion.
>It's a very dangerous trend which can throw the country into turmoil,
>confusion and hatred. We are trying our best to live together and for
>52 years we have succeeded. There are two reasons for this. First,
>since I believe that God controls our lives, I think religious
>tolerance in India is God's gift. Second, our country has so many
>world religions and diverse cultures that we have to accept that India
>is not a monolithic culture. I resent any ideology coming in the way
>of this belief. We are all different, and thank God for that. It's
>like a beautiful garden with different flowers. There have been
>upheavals in a few pockets, but by and large we have enjoyed peace.
>I would like to insist that instead of attacking us, the Sangh should
>work with us towards nation-building. As for us, we will continue to
>preach with love and forgiveness. Whatever happens, we will never have
>a feeling of revenge or hatred and will never resort to violence. If
>we do this, we are no longer Christians.
>A guest has certain obligations too.
>Dr Pravin Togadia, Secretary-General, Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
>It is a Hindu tradition to welcome guests with deep respect. The Hindu
>civilisation has a unique record of giving succour to those who came
>here due to religious persecution in their own homeland. While in the
>Christian lands the Jews were persecuted, in a Hindu land not only
>were they able to maintain and preserve their religion, but they were
>also able to live, socially and financially, in an honourable manner.
>The same can be said of the Parsis. Moreover, for the Parsis, their
>holy places are in their adopted land and not in their original land.
>The Syrian Christians who came here in the fourth and the fifth
>centuries received the same warm welcome as the Jews and the Parsis.
>But, guests have certain obligations to the host. These guests
>accepted to live within the norms of the Hindu society, and that is
>why there was harmony. Those who came here to impose their will on the
>host society were resisted by the Hindus, and will be resisted in the
>future too.
>Duncan Forrester writes: "The Syrian Christians, like the Jews,
>survived and indeed flourished because they accepted the social system
>within which they found themselves and observed its norms." (Caste and
>Christianity: Attitudes and Policies on Caste of Anglo-Saxon
>Protestant Missions in India, 1979, p 100.)
>It is in the same Hindu tradition that we in the Sangh parivar welcome
>Pope John Paul II, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, and pose
>certain questions to our guest. The Hindu society will always permit
>plurality. The Hindu ethos is "Ekam Sad, Viprah Bahudda Vadanti" - God
>is one, sages call him variously. This is the very basis of Hindu
>tolerance, which has today been accepted as the way to live in
>religious harmony by all secular thinkers.
>We are glad that Alan de Lastic, Archbishop of Delhi, in his article
>in The Hindustan Times (October 24, 1999), has clarified that the Pope
>is coming here in a dual capacity - that is the head of the Vatican
>state and as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. The question we
>would now like to pose to the secular polity of the country is whether
>the political leadership of the country should meet the Pope.
>The second question posed by the Sangh is whether the Pope accepts
>that there is salvation in other religions. In asking this question,
>we do not intend to impose any view on the Pope. All that we are
>seeking is a clarification from him in context of living in communal
>harmony in a multi-religious society.
>In more ways than one, the Archbishop has given a clarification on
>behalf of the Pope. The Archbiship has implied that if the Pope were
>to accept that there is salvation outside Christianity, it would 'go
>against (the Pope's) religious belief.'
>We would like to bring to the notice of the Archbishop that it would
>appear that the local clergy in India has taken a different view point
>when they expressed their unhappiness with the latest Diwali message
>from Vatican. In a report bv Josy Joseph in the Rediff on Net (October
>19, 1999), "Church sources said the assertion of Christ's salvific
>vision, and the subtle assertion of Christ's superiority are in no way
>welcome at this point."
>We would also like to bring to the notice of the Archbishop that he
>himself is being inconsistent. In the article in reference, he says
>that 'religious tolerance in India is God's gift', and that 'India is
>not a monolithic culture'. The primary reason for this tradition is
>that the Hindu philosophy believes that there are multiple ways to
>salvation. Since Christianity believes only in a unique way towards
>salvation, how can the Archbishop talk about religious tolerance and
>The problem for the hierarchy of the Christian churches is that they
>cannot accept that there is salvation outside Christianity. It is this
>exclusivist belief that has been the cause of vandalism not only in
>India but all over the world. While the Hindu philosophy has survived,
>in all the other places there is very little trace of the indigenous
>At these other places, the churches have accepted the harm that they
>have done, and have apologised. The Catholic Church has also
>apologised to other Christian faiths for the transgression that has
>been done in its name. But, when it comes to the Hindus, there is an
>attempt to negate the history, and hence there is not even a hint that
>an apology can be considered.
>Here, it is necessary to recall what the Pope said in 1994. "It is
>appropriate that, as the Second Millennium of Christianity draws to a
>close, the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness
>of her children, (and recall all those times in history when they)
>indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of
>counterwitness and scandal."
>When the Pope gave the apologies to the various peoples while visiting
>their land, surely he did not complain that he was being treated badly
>as a guest? He accepted that he had certain obligations as a guest,
>and he merely fulfilled them.
>That Christianity is viewed as an alien religion is a feeling that is
>not unique to India. This has been experienced by the Christian clergy
>all over Asia. The document related to the Asian Synod, which is why
>the Pope is here in India, says, "In Asia more than, perhaps, in any
>other continent, the church is perceived as being 'foreign',
>'Western', and 'Roman'. In direct contrast to the great Asian
>religions which are rooted in Asian traditions and history,
>Christianity emerges as an 'outside influence'. As something alien to
>the soul of the continent."
>When the various Christian sects have targeted the Catholics for
>conversion, the Pope has expressed his displeasure in the strongest
>possible terms. The irony here is that the convert still believes in
>salvation through Christ, but wants to practice the belief in another
>Church. This is not acceptable to the Pope, and hence it is clear that
>he believes that salvation is possible not only in Christianity but
>also only in the Catholic Church. It is pertinent to ask him what
>moral right does he have ask non-Christians to convert to
>Christianity, if he has objections to Catholics getting converted?
>We in the Sangh welcome the Archbishop's call for working together to
>take India forward. However, such collaboration can only be done on
>the basis of equality. And also the work should be done for its own
>sake, and not with an expectation that the service providers will get
>a return. After all the work of nation-building is not a commercial
>activity, but an end in itself.

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