During an interfaith dialogue in Mumbai, Hindu and Catholic leaders denounced religious conversions and recent anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal district in India.
The two-day meeting, held at Mumbai's Shanmukhananda Hall, was organized in the wake of recent violence against Christians and the still-paralyzing consequences of the Kandhamal carnage.
The Hindu pontiff, Jayendra Saraswati, pointed to "conversion" as the chief reason for the growing violence on minorities. He sought an assurance from the Catholic Church to halt such activities. Catholic leaders denied engaging in any proselytizing and blamed Protestants.
"Although conversion is a personal choice, I want to endorse that there will be no forced conversions. It has no meaning, and is considered invalid. The Catholic Church is totally against forced conversions. The Vatican documents are clear about that," Mumbai Archbishop Cardinal Oswald Gracias said.
At a press conference, religious leaders from both sides condemned the attacks against Christians that were carried out last August by Hindu extremists and that forced thousands to flee their homes. They further agreed to work together in social and charity works.
In a press statement, Hindu leader Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham urged churches and Christian groups to use charity funds for social causes like health and education. The Hindu seer disapproved of foreign funds used for running educational and charity projects.
Furthermore, he also objected to the scheduled visit of the U.S Commission on Religious Freedom to India.
"We will not allow external interference in our internal affairs," he said.
The Vatican representative, Cardinal Jean Louis P. Tauran, expressed much hope in the interfaith meeting, which he believes will have a positive outcome.
"India is a cradle of many religions. I am also very impressed that Indians are open-minded and tolerant with positive values," he praised.
The June 12-13 dialogue is said to be the first official historic meeting between the pope's representatives and top Indian Hindu religious leaders to promote understanding and reconciliation in a predominantly Hindu country. Cardinal Gracias said the meeting would send a message to the grassroots that religions should not divide communities but rather foster unity.