By David Kerr
Vatican City, Sep 19, 2011 / 04:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged Indian bishops not to allow anti-Christian laws or violence deter them from spreading the Gospel in India.
“You must always be prepared to spread the Kingdom of God and to walk in the footsteps of Christ, who was himself misunderstood, despised, falsely accused and who suffered for the sake of truth,” he told the bishops at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.
…Of the country’s 28 states, five have enacted “anti-conversion” laws, which impose heavy fines and jail sentences for those “forcing” others to change their religion.
The Pope said that such laws, even if they are intimidating, should not deter the apostolic mission of the Church.
The “anti-conversion” laws are currently being enforced in the north-central states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Orissa in the east, Gujarat in the west and Himachal Pradesh in the north. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need reports that Hindu hardliners routinely engineer the arrest of Christians on charges of “forcible conversion.”
The bishops are in Italy for their 2011 “ad limina” visit to update the Pope on the health of the Church in India. Pope Benedict urged them to continue to receive converts from all social backgrounds: “God welcomes everyone, without distinction, into union with him through the Church.”
Although India is the second most populous country in the world, with over 1.18 billion people, only about 2 percent are Catholic. Eighty percent of the country is Hindu.
Many Indian bishops hope this year’s ad limina visit will pave the way for Pope Benedict to their country. An invitation to the Pope was personally issued during a previous ad limina session in May. If the visit does happen, it will be the fourth by a Pope to India, following trips by Pope Paul VI in 1964 and Pope John Paul II in 1986 and 1999.