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Pope backs Indian bishops' troubled interreligious dialogue effort

Pope John Paul II has asked India's bishops to proceed with interreligious dialogue and evangelisation despite difficulties with government and other hurdles.

"It is unfortunate that some of the Church's honest attempts toward interreligious dialogue at its most basic level have sometimes been hindered by a lack of cooperation from the government and by harassment from certain fundamentalist groups," he told a group of the country's bishops during their visit to Rome.

He stressed the Church's duty to evangelise in his address to the latest group of bishops, who head dioceses in Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa states and the federally-ruled territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Catholics form 1.5% of 146.4 million people in this area, where mission work began as early as 300 years ago. Most people in the area are tribals or of low-caste ancestry.

The pope said proclamation of the Gospel is the duty of every Christian, and called it "unfortunate" that "unnecessary obstacles still impede" this proclamation in some places in India.

"Citizens of a modern democracy should not suffer because of their religious convictions," he said "Nor should anyone feel compelled to hide his or her religion in order to enjoy fundamental human rights, such as education and employment."

The pope told the bishops they have an obligation to ensure that interreligious dialogue continues as a "mutual exchange," but they "must never allow it to be influenced by religious indifferentism."

Catholic Bishops Conference of India

Guard against religious relativism, Pope warns India's bishops (Catholic World News)
Catholic Bishops Conference of India

4 Jul 2003