Colombo (Fides Service) – Recent episodes of anti Christian violence on the part of Buddhist fundamentalist can be traced to aggressive proselytism by certain Christian sects which is upsetting centuries-old religious balance, Archbishop Oswald Gomis, Archbishop of Colombo and Chairman of the Sri Lankan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, told Fides. “The situation is still under control at the moment, but we are deeply concerned about the rising tension in the past few weeks. As Christian and Buddhist leaders we are doing our best to promote harmony”.
In a wave of anti-Christian violence two Catholic churches were torched on January 15 and January 18 in two different districts not far from the capital Colombo. Earlier over the Christmas season, Buddhist monks staged anti-Christian demonstrations protesting against “fraudulent conversions” and Christians and Christian institutions of various denominations reported at least 20 episodes of violence.
“The violence is an answer to the attitude of certain Protestant Christians sects leading brazen conversion campaigns which anger Buddhists. For people of other faiths Christians are all the same and even though Catholic communities are not to blame they are targeted. I would agree with the Buddhists with regard to protestant <proselytism>. In fact we have tried to tell these religious leaders that they are causing trouble but they will not listen. We are all concerned at this sudden outbreak of unprecedented violence” the Archbishop told Fides.
The Archbishop said “fundamentalism is spreading among Buddhists and Christians and it is not easy to stop. Aggressive proselytism does not mix with dialogue which is the path we must take. Our relations with Buddhist leaders have always been excellent but now they are being polluted with this violence. But these are still only episodes and extremist Buddhists and Christians are to blame. We must not let them destroy our good relations. Many Bishops and Venerables are trying to build bridges, speak to ordinary people, get together, promote friendship and tolerance. With this in mind, Sunday 1 February will be a nation-wide day of prayer for interreligious harmony”.
The Archbishop is deeply concerned about the anti-conversion Bill presented by extremists for discussion in parliament: “a law against conversion would be a step backwards and it would only increase polarisation. We all hope it will not be approved. We suggest that the government should form a joint commission of representatives of the government and the different religions to settle the question”.
“There is also a political aspect: prompted by personal interests, certain political leaders are stoking the fire. At this difficult time we need the support of universal Church and we ask all to sustain us with prayers ” the Archbishop concluded.
(PA) (Fides Service 27/1/2004 lines 36 words 478)