Thousands converting back to Hinduism: truth, or propaganda?

Mumbai, India - A lavish demonstration to celebrate the return to Hinduism of 1,130 families who had left the traditional religion of India to become Christian. It took place in Kalyan, a city in the district of Thane, in the state of Maharashtra, about fifty kilometers from Mumbai. A similar ceremony had taken place on April 27, 2008, in Borivali in suburban Mumbai, during which the return to Hinduism of 1,793 new converts to Christianity was celebrated.

Several thousands of Hindu faithful participated in the ceremony in Kalyan, during which the guru Jagadguru Narendra Maharaj warned those present not to let themselves be corrupted by the work of Christian missionaries, and urged spiritual leaders to leave their ashrams, the hermitages of Hindu tradition, in order to oppose conversions. In his speech, the guru also accused politicians of using Hinduism purely for electoral purposes, and urged the faithful to vote for parties that defend the Hindu community.

Interviewed by AsiaNews, Percival Fernandez, auxiliary bishop of Mumbai, said that he was perplexed by the celebration, which clearly has value only as propaganda, while the origin of the alleged "return converts" is unknown, nor is it known to what Christian confession they are supposed to have belonged before returning to Hinduism.

"Theologically, can anyone who has received Baptism in the Catholic Church be 'reconverted'?" Bishop Fernandez asks. "The seal we receive in Baptism is permanent and indelible. Isn't it? So reconversion in the theological sense is impossible." In any case, the news of the ceremony in Kalyan brings up the age-old issue of conversions, the object of violence toward Christian individuals and communities in the country. The massacre of Christians in Orissa is justified by fundamentalist groups as a struggle against the alleged "forced conversions" to Christianity. In some states of the Union, there are anti-conversion laws that seek to block conversion from Hinduism to the Christian and Muslim faiths, but not the other way around.

"Anyway, there is a possibility of some Catholics getting 'reconverted' out of fear and not in reality," the bishop explains, "as in the case of a family in Kandamal whose son is a priest."

In the face of the repeated accusations of proselytism and forced conversions lodged by the most intransigent wing of the Hindu community, Bishop Fernandez says: "I don't think we should be worried about 'stopping' this claim. We should continue to propagate the message of love and the values of the Gospel, especially by our lives, and no effort on earth can stop us from evangelising through this powerful means."