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Pro-Hindu Leader Calls On Archbishop, Seeks Blessings For New Government

6/10/08 MANGALORE, India (UCAN) — Karnataka’s first chief minister from the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party called on the head of the Catholic Church in the southern Indian state to seek blessings for his new government.

Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore told UCA News on June 10 that Chief Minister Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yeddyurappa and five of his ministers had visited the Bangalore archbishop’s house the previous day. The prelate said he first led the ministers to the chapel, where he prayed over the chief minister.

Bangalore, 2,060 kilometers south of New Delhi, is the Karnataka capital. Archbishop Moras is chairman of the Karnataka Regional Bishops’ Council, which comprises Bangalore archdiocese and the eight other dioceses in the state.

Archbishop Moras said he had sought an appointment to meet the chief minister to offer the Church’s support to his new government following state assembly election in May, “but he opted to visit me here.”

Yeddyurappa’s party is widely considered the political arm of groups striving to turn India into a Hindu nation. It emerged from the election as the single largest party in the assembly and formed a government on May 30 with support from some independent members. The BJP, seen as a party of northern India until now, is ruling a southern state by itself for the first time.

Archbishop Moras said he read a passage from Saint Matthew’s Gospel on a citizen’s civil responsibilities: “Very well, pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar — and God what belongs to God.” He then explained to the visitors that Christians are true nationalists who have no conflict in serving “both God and the state with full devotion.”

Hindu radicals often accuse Christianity of being a foreign religion and suspect Christians’ loyalty to the nation.

Archbishop Moras presented Yeddyurappa a copy of the Bible, which he said the chief minister received with reverence and respect, before hosting a tea party for his guests.

The Church leader told UCA News he submitted a memorandum to the chief minister during tea that expressed concern over increasing attacks against Christians in the state. He noted the largest number of incidents of anti-Christian violence in the country during the last two years occurred in Karnataka, while the BJP was a partner in the previous coalition government.

Archbishop Moras said he expressed hope that the new government would focus on development instead of continuing a hate campaign against Christians. He also pointed to the “stepmotherly attitude” the previous government had toward Christian educational institutions in the state. It kept many posts in these schools vacant and withdrew recognition from some of the institutions.

Responding to the archbishop, the chief minister reportedly affirmed his government’s commitment to protect the rights of religious minority groups. The archbishop said the chief minister also promised to address Christian schools’ grievances.

Bishop-elect Henry D’Souza of Bellary was present during the meeting. The chief minister expressed regret he would not be able to attend the scheduled June 12 episcopal ordination in Bellary, Karnataka, but he congratulated Bishop-elect D’Souza and wished him success.

Arthur Pereira from Mangalore says the chief minister’s gesture of calling on the Bangalore archbishop has impressed Catholics in the state. Mangalore, a Catholic stronghold in Karnataka, is 350 kilometers west of Bangalore.

Earlier, Archbishop Moras had extended his “support” to the BJP government. In an interview with UCA News on May 26, he said the Church would collaborate with the government to safeguard the interests of religious minorities, rather than reject the BJP as an “anti-minority” party.

Karnataka has close to 53 million people, mostly Hindus. Muslims constitute about 12 percent of the population, while Christians make up less than 2 percent. Other religious minorities in the state are smaller.