Vatican asks Hindus to fight anti-Christian propaganda

Vatican City, Vatican - The Vatican on Thursday asked Hindus to fight "hateful propaganda" and allow Christians to practise their religion freely, in a message delivered to mark the upcoming festival of light, Diwali.

The message, signed by the head and deputy head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran and Pier Luigi Celata, comes as the number of Christians persecuted in certain regions of India rises.

From the state of Orissa in the east to Kerala in the southwest, the conversion of Dalit or Untouchables to the Christian faith has sparked violence, with groups of extremist Hindus attacking Christians and their churches.

The letter also came a week before a meeting of religious leaders to be hosted by Pope Benedict XVI in Assisi in Italy. Seven Hindus, including Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandi, are expected to attend.

Tauran and Celata said Diwali, which is celebrated every year on October 26, "marks the victory of truth over lies, of light over dark, of good over evil."

They called for Hindus and Catholics alike to work for religious freedom in the face of "prejudices, hateful propaganda, discrimination and persecution based on faith."

Religious freedom meant liberty "to profess, practise and spread one's religion, in public or in private, alone or in a community," they said.