India's Persecuted Christians Urged to Look to the Cross for Comfort

Speaking to a group of persecuted Christians, mostly widows of martyrs from the recent anti-Christian violence, former Archbishop Ignatius Pinto of Bangalore urged believers in India to look to the cross for comfort and inspiration.

Addressing the Fourth National Persecution Meet 2009, hosted by the Global Council of Indian Christians, the Archbishop said forceful conversion is not plausible in a democratic society. Conversion of faith is by conviction and is the work of God and not of man, he explained.

Hindu nationalists have accused Christians of forcefully converting Hindus, especially Dalits. One of their leaders had pledged to do "everything possible to protect the Hindu faith in Orissa."

When the leader was murdered last August, Christians were blamed for the assassination and attacked despite a public statement by Maoist rebels claiming responsibility for the Hindu fundamentalist leader's death.

His followers accused Christians of being the masterminds behind the murder and maintained this position.

Around 8,000 Christians were forced to seek shelter in makeshift government camps, with many more hiding in surrounding forests. The violence left more than a hundred people dead.

Archbishop Pinto cited examples of Jesus' disciples who were persecuted by the Roman Empire and encouraged the Indian Christians to "pray for the persecutors and be strengthened by the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus Christ."

Quoting the verse, "Do not be afraid for I have overcome the world," he exhorted the believers to follow the life of Christ and receive salvation in him, which can fill their lives with love, joy and peace.

He also handed out blankets and Bibles to the Orissa victims on the final day of the conference.

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