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Religious extremism ‘one of greatest threats’, says WCC leader


The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, has said during a visit to India that "one of the greatest problems facing the world today is religious extremism."

Kobia expressed his concern following a recent outbreak of violence against Christians in Orissa state in eastern India, and while he was visiting the national headquarters of the Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action in New Delhi on 16 October.

The WCC leader met the staff of CASA, the charitable wing of a grouping of 24 Orthodox and Protestant churches in India, whilst on a 16 to 23 October visit that will take in not only India but also Sri Lanka.

The killing of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati on 23 August sparked off violence targeted on Christians in Orissa state. Though Maoist rebels have claimed responsibility for the killing, Hindu groups said it was a Christian conspiracy because the slain leader, who was based in Kandhamal, had vigorously campaigned against conversion to Christianity.

In unabated violence, which has entered it eighth week, at least 54 Christians have been killed, and more than 5000 Christian houses, along with 142 churches and dozens of Christian institutions, have been looted and torched what Christians have said are orchestrated attacks by Hindu extremists.

Marauding groups are reported to have attempted to forcibly convert Christians to Hinduism, and more than two thirds of the 100 000 Christians in Kandhamal have become refugees in jungles and government relief camps. Other people have fled to cities such as Bhubaneswar, the state capital.

Kobia reminded the more-than-40 CASA staff, a majority of whom are Hindus, that India had generally been viewed as a good model of "harmonious co-existence" between diverse faiths, but this image had been dented by a "few fundamentalists" in Orissa, although the majority of the population was peace loving.

"It is time for people of all faiths to come together," the WCC general secretary, a Kenyan Methodist, asserted. "What needs to be done is to help people live together upholding the dignity of each other irrespective of their faith."

In welcoming Kobia, the executive director of CASA, Sushanto Aggarwal, said, "Much more than a religious issue, the orchestrated attacks on Christians are a question of fundamental rights."

Kobia urged the organization "to help the victims of the current sectarian violence as it did with those of the partition". More than two million people were killed on both sides of the new border during the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.

In his address, the WCC general secretary also praised the "tremendous and dedicated service" of CASA during the last 61 years.

(c) Ecumenical News International