Catholic leaders welcome Nepal as secular state

Catholic leaders in Nepal have welcomed the country's move from the world's only Hindu kingdom to a secular state, saying that the change is good for Catholics and other minorities.

UCA News reports that pro-democracy rallies that defied curfews and even shoot-on-sight warnings the past few months in Nepal, a Hindu state until now, forced its king to reconvene on 28 April the parliament he had dismissed in May 2002.

On 18 May, it approved a set of decisions that converted Nepal into a secular state and stripped King Gyanendra Shah of most of his power. The parliament gave itself the power to appoint the army chief, to deploy military forces and to remove "royal" from all official documents.

Catholics throughout the country offered prayers of thanksgiving at weekend Masses and Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and tribal groups have issued statements welcoming secularism.

Fr Pius Perumana, pro-prefect of the Church in Nepal, said he hopes that with secularism, the Catholic Church will gain official recognition rather than continue to have its current status as a development agency.

Much the same hope was expressed by Piya Ratna, a Buddhist. "Now it will be easy to get formal recognition for religious organisations other than Hindu-dominated ones," he said, adding that he has "been meaning to register the interreligious United Religions Initiative Nepal group."

The Jesuit regional superior for Nepal, Fr Lawrence Maniyar, sees a new opportunity for development as well as recognition of minority communities. In his analysis, "The concept of a Hindu Kingdom has played a very negative role in grassroots development in Nepal."

But with the latest development, he continued, "now even the minorities and ethnic tribal communities should be able to receive national or foreign aid meant for the whole country."

Fr Silas Bogati, director of Caritas Nepal, the local Catholic Church's development and relief organisation, said he is "overjoyed." The former parish priest for Kathmandu anticipated that "Christians could now take up government jobs and really participate in mainstream national life."

However, Msgr Anthony Sharma, Nepal's apostolic prefect, who had just come back from a retreat in Goa, India, cautioned against excessive optimism. "We have to see how the actual laws (concerning secularism) are framed. The new constitution to replace this old one is going to take over a year. Our plan until then is to continue serving and educating," he said.

Rev Simon Pandey, secretary of National Churches Fellowship Nepal, offered a similar note of caution. "Our Christian concept of secularism and the concept of others may be different," the pastor told UCA News, adding that there still could be a "rise in religious fundamentalism backed by Hindu groups from India."

Meanwhile, singing or playing the old national anthem that glorified the king has been stopped, and all 149 billboards along Kathmandu streets that bore sayings of King Gyanendra were being removed under orders from the Ministry of Information.

Catholic leaders welcome Nepal becoming secular state (Catholic Online/Union of Catholic Asian News/Catholic Online 22/5/06)

Nepal Catholic Church welcomes democracy, prays for peace (Union of Catholic Asian News/Catholic Online 11/5/06)
Church welcomes restoration of democracy (The Tablet 6/5/06)
Churches in Nepal hope for peace with justice after turmoil (Ekklesia 1/5/06)
Nepal Catholics 'finally in Easter mood' as political confrontation ends (Catholic Online/Union of Catholic Asian News 25/4/06)

23 May 2006