November 5, 2007 / 3:45 PM / 13 years ago

Vatican tells Hindus forced conversions impossible

Saint Peter's Basilica is seen during Palm Sunday mass at the Vatican in this March 20, 2005 file photo. The Vatican told Indians on Monday that it was impossible to forcibly convert anyone to another religion, amid accusations by Hindu activists that missionaries are pressuring poor Indians to adopt Christianity. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

ROME (Reuters) - The Vatican told Indians on Monday that it was impossible to forcibly convert anyone to another religion, amid accusations by Hindu activists that missionaries are pressuring poor Indians to adopt Christianity.

The appeal comes as relations between the two communities are strained by attacks on Christians by Hindu activists in India seeking to stamp out what they see as forced conversions.

“There can be no coercion in religion: no one can be forced to believe, neither can anyone who wishes to believe be prevented from doing so,” Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who heads the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said in a message to Hindus for Diwali, the festival of lights.

He said the Catholic Church had been faithful to the teaching on freedom of belief.

Tauran urged both Hindus and Christians to focus on educating their communities, warning that the faithful could “so easily be misled by deceitful and false propaganda”.

Christians make up just over 2 percent of India’s 1.1 billion people, who are mostly Hindu.

Tensions have flared between the two groups after several states governed by Hindu nationalists introduced or strengthened laws against what they see as forcible conversions.

Christian groups say these laws are aimed at curbing religious freedom and against the Indian constitution. They have reported dozens of attacks on priests and Christian institutions over the past year by Hindu hardliners.

Reporting by Deepa Babington, editing by Dominic Evans

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