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South Asian church leaders seek to redefine Christianity

Christianity in South Asia needs to be redefined if it is to be relevant and responsive to issues of armed conflict and religion-based animosities, say church leaders from the region attending the World Council of Churches’ ninth assembly.

"Why are we not being recognised as Christians? Maybe we have failed to follow Christ. Maybe our churches have become worship-oriented rather than service-oriented," said the Rev. Elia Pradeep Samuel of India’s Methodist Church.

Samuel was speaking at a side meeting of the 14-23 February meeting of the WCC’s highest governing body in Porto Alegre that was focussing on how churches could transcend their identity and promote cooperation in a region with a mix of religious communities.

"Mother Teresa picked up a small helpless baby under a bridge, nursed him back to health, and cared for other sick and helpless people and became known all over the world as a perfect example of a real Christian," he added. "Maybe it’s time to rethink our Christianity."

Samuel also noted that many Christian churches in South Asia, besides being a minority, have become too preoccupied with administrative and material concerns such as where to get their funding.

The Rev. Kali Bahadur Rokaya, secretary general of the National Council of Churches in Nepal, urged Christians in India and in the United States to help convince their governments to stop fomenting violence in his country, which is facing a 10-year armed insurgency by Maoists.

"The roles of the Indian and US governments in the affairs of Nepal are very negative because they are trying to help inflame more violence in my country," said the Nepalese leader of the church council, a body represented for the first time at a WCC assembly.

Despite the armed and religious conflicts in the region of Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka there is still hope for humanitarian cooperation, says National Council of Churches in India associate executive secretary, Amelia Andrews.

She cited the December 2005 tsunami disaster during which Islamic guerrilla fighters in some parts of the region affected by the catastrophe who had been perceived as "terrorists", helped rescue and rehabilitate victims of the worst disaster in recent history.

But, she asked, "Does it need a tragedy for a humanitarian identity and cooperation to emerge

(c) Ecumenical News International