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Pope slams India's anti-conversion stand

He said that the anti-conversion laws were unconstitutional and contrary to the ideals of India's founding fathers.

india Updated: May 19, 2006 09:59 IST

Pope Benedict condemned Hindu nationalist attempts to ban religious conversions in India in a speech on Thursday, reflecting growing tension among major faiths about the role and nature of missionary work.

In unusually strong language, he told New Delhi's new ambassador to the Vatican Amitava Tripathi that efforts in some states to outlaw conversions were unconstitutional and should be rejected.

It was his second declaration this week in defence of religious freedom in countries with non-Christian majorities.

On Monday, he urged Muslim countries to give their Christian minorities the same rights which Muslims enjoyed in Western states.

"The disturbing signs of religious intolerance which have troubled some regions of the nation, including the reprehensible attempt to legislate clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right of religious freedom, must be firmly rejected," Benedict told the new ambassador.

Anti-conversion laws were "unconstitutional and contrary to the highest ideals of India's founding fathers," he said, according to the text of his speech released by the Vatican.

Also this week, representatives of world religions met in Rome to begin working on a "code of conduct" that would affirm conversion as a basic right but curb aggressive proselytising.

The Vatican and the Protestant and Orthodox World Council of Churches launched the initiative after Christian minorities in India complained about aggressive proselytising by newly arrived evangelical groups.

The conversion meeting came two months after Afghanistan threatened to execute a Muslim who converted to Christianity and took refuge in Italy after an outcry from Western countries and the Vatican. Several Muslim states prescribe death for apostates.

First Published: May 19, 2006 08:57 IST