Threats and Hindu extremism do not stop conversions to Catholicism

Kathmandu, Nepal – On the Octave of Easter, 24 catechumens will be baptised at Kathmandu’s Assumption Cathedral after following a two-year programme. The event falls almost a year after Hindu extremists attacked the church on 23 May 2009, killing three people.

Hindu-born Rajani Chetri is one of the 24 catechumens. “I came to Catholicism,” she said, “when I saw a group of Catholics take care of an elderly woman who had fallen sick. A doctor refused to treat her, but the Catholics cared for her. Now she is healthy again.”

Nepal is home to about 150,000 Christians, 8,000 of whom are Catholic. Before the monarchy was abolished, Hinduism was the state religion, and touched the life of every Nepali.

When the republic was proclaimed, the state was secularised and religious freedom was guaranteed, at least in principle. In fact, Christians are still the target of threats and abuse by Hindus. Nevertheless, a certain number of non-Catholics show interest in the religion despite the difficulty in abandoning the superstitions and beliefs of their old faith. About 200 of them regularly attend Sunday Mass in the cathedral.

“Each year, about 30 to 35 people convert,” said Fr George Kalapurackal, the cathedral’s parish priest. “People who want to convert must follow a two-year programme, designed to help catechumens to gradually come to new faith. They learn about Christianity and its precepts and their own behaviour is monitored.”

The education of catechumens is fundamental for the clergyman because it shows how well the new faith is actually blossoming. It also enables educators to help future Catholics along their path of conversion before they are baptised.

Fr George has been the cathedral’s parish priest since 1994. During this period, he has been threatened on several occasions by the Nepal Defence Army (NDA), which is responsible for last year’s terror attack that left three people dead, and scores injured.

“Despite the risks, the number of Nepali Catholics has not dropped. In fact, people were not afraid of coming to church after the blast,” he said. “If we die in this place of peace, we could go straight to heaven,” he added.

In January, NDA leader Ram Prasad Mainali, who was masterminded last year’s attack, wrote a letter to Nepali Christians, asking for forgiveness.

“We have already forgiven him,” Father George said, “but it is up to the government to decide what to do in such cases.”