Hindu Americans Welcome New Pope - Hope for Better Dialogue

Boston, MA (March 13, 2013) -- The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) welcomed the appointment of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy, following the sudden and unprecedented resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Foundation leaders expressed hope that the Catholic Church, under Pope Francis I, as he will be called, will respect and privilege pluralism and interfaith relations, based on earlier efforts with Nostra Aetete, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.
“As our Catholic friends, neighbors and colleagues celebrate the naming of their pontiff, we, as Hindu Americans, congratulate the Catholic Church and welcome Pope Francis I,” said Pawan Deshpande, a member of the HAF Executive Council. “As a pluralistic faith, Hindus respect the papacy for its importance to Catholics, and hope that the Church now begins a new era of mutually respecting Dharma religions and other pluralist traditions as divinely inspired paths as well.”
The Declaration of Nostra Aetete, signed in 1965, was the first papal document to state, in reference to Hindu and Buddhist beliefs:
“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is holy and true in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. ”
Many Hindus consider the tenure of Pope Benedict--marked by few visits from spiritual leaders including Radhika Ramana Dasa--as one of lost opportunities for dialogue with Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains, and marred by controversy fueled by the Pope Benedict’s own public remarks and actions. In a seeming departure from the Nostra Aetete spirit, in 2006, Benedict XVI sparked an uproar in the Muslim community when he stated that Prophet Muhammad’s teachings are “evil and inhuman.” In 2007, while visiting Brazil, he claimed that indigenous pre-colonial South American populations had all along been “silently longing” for Christianity. He also widely promoted the use of the Tridentine Mass in Good Friday prayers which explicitly calls for the conversion of Jews to Christianity. In 1997, prior to his papacy and as Cardinal Ratzinger, he denigrated Hinduism as a religion of “false hope” that guaranteed salvation based on a “morally cruel” concept of reincarnation resembling a “continuous circle of hell,” and Buddhism as “autoerotic spirituality.”
“Under Pope Benedict’s watch, the church did not privilege interfaith relations and pluralism with our community,” said Pawan Deshpande, HAF Executive Council member. “We sincerely hope that the Pope Francis I will take significant, meaningful, and lasting measures to create a more harmonious world.”
Hindu Americans have long insisted that predatory proselytization campaigns where education, medical care, humanitarian aid, employment or other allurements are predicated on conversion to Christianity, vitiate the sensitivities of communities and spark conflicts. In the past few years, aggressive campaigns fueled conflict which led to violence, in some cases. However, signs of hope were seen from the broader Christian community when, for example, the Los Angeles based Episcopal Bishop, Jon Bruno, condemned and apologized for a history of predatory proselytization.
“As Hindus, it’s difficult to have meaningful interfaith dialogue when the Church is openly advocating for the demise of our faith,” said Padma Kuppa, HAF Executive Council member. “The appointment of Pope Francis I offers a great opportunity for the Church to build meaningful and substantive relations with a billion Hindus globally, repudiate its history of predatory proselytization, and foster a new relationship based on mutual respect, tolerance, and pluralism.”