Staff Correspondent

‘The meeting aimed at restoration of peace and communal harmony’

Right to preach, propagate is said to have been affirmed

Allegation of forcible conversion has been refuted

MANGALORE: The Catholic Diocese of Mangalore, which has been criticised for striking a compromising note with Hindutva organisations in the aftermath of the attacks on prayer halls and churches in the district, has allayed such concerns.

In a press release here, bishop of Mangalore Aloysius Paul D’Souza has said: “I confirm that the press release issued on September 18 at the joint press meet of the leaders of Vishwa Hindu Parishat (VHP) and the representatives of our diocese was a right one. The meeting with the leaders of other communities is to pave way for peace and religious harmony.”

He was reacting to the recent criticism of his action by AICC general secretary Margaret Alva and human rights activist Teesta Setalvad.

Diocese’s spokesman and Rector of St. Aloysius College Francis Serrao told The Hindu that there was no “climb down” on the part of the Catholic delegation at the September 18 meeting as had been made out by certain sections.

He said that the Catholic delegation had made it clear to the VHP leaders that the Christian community would not flout the law of the land. “We told them that we have the constitutional right to profess, preach and propagate our faith,” Mr. Serrao said.

He said that the VHP leaders had been told that the Catholics were not indulging in forcible conversions. On the demand to stop prayers in Catholic institutions the VHP leaders had been told that in several other institutions the non-Hindu students were being made to offer Hindu prayers. According to Mr. Serrao non-Christian students are not being compelled to attend Christian prayers at the institutions or chapels. He claimed that the morning prayers that students were made to offer were “secular” without reference to any particular deity.

On the purported objection by VHP leaders at the meeting for the closure of Catholic institutions on August 29 to protest against violence in Orissa, Mr. Serrao said that they were reminded of the adverse impact on the studies of several lakhs of students caused by pro-Hindu organisations for announcing bandhs and protests over Amarnath issue. He said that the Catholic brethren would be appraised of the accord during Sunday Mass. “I will discuss this with our bishop. We offer our unconditional friendship and a promise of peace to all communities. We pledge to work for the betterment of society, irrespective of caste or creed,” he said.