ASIA/SRI LANKA - Dialogue and unity with Buddhists, no to “immoral” conversions: Catholic Bishops pay a visit to Sri Lanka’s leading Buddhists

Friday, 21 May 2004

Colombo (Fides Service) - Maintain good relations with Buddhists; offer them the Holy See’s annual message of good wishes on their feast of Vesak; reaffirm that the Catholic Church has nothing to do with so called “immoral” conversions obtained by force or bribery: this was the goal of a recent visit by Catholic Bishops, at the end of the plenary meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, to Sri Lanka’s leading Theravada Buddhists, local sources reported to Fides.
The Catholic delegation led by Archbishop Oswald Gomis of Colombo, President of the Bishops’ Conference, met Venerable Rambukwelle Vipassi Thero and Venerable Udugama Buddharakkhita Thero at their residence in Kandy, offering them greetings for the Feast of Vesak and engaging in peaceful conversation with regard to the present political and social scenario in Sri Lanka.
The Bishops’ confirmed their intention to maintain good relations with all Buddhists and their desire to work together to build national unity which can only exist when the rights of all citizens are guaranteed. Recalling that there are Catholics among both the Sinhalese and Tamil islanders, the Bishops reaffirmed their commitment to being a bridge between these two ethnic groups engaged in a bitter civil war for twenty years.
Another matter discussed by the religious leaders was a recent wave of protest against so called “immoral conversions ” in which groups of fanatics unleashed violence against Christian churches and personnel. The Bishops reassured the Buddhist leaders that for the Catholic Church conversion is a movement of the heart, a question of free choice, never the fruit of bribery or force. However they also stated their conviction that every person has a natural right to believe in any religion of his or her choice and also to change religion.
For their part the Buddhist leaders thanked the Bishops for their visit, warmly accepting the invitation to further dialogue while voicing commitment to the activity of Sri Lanka’s interreligious institution Congress of Religions composed of Buddhists, Catholics, Muslims and Hindus.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 21/05/2004 Lines: 34 Words: 370)