US Hindu leaders defend meeting with Pope

Last Updated: Thu, Apr 17, 2008 03:15 hrs

New York: Most Hindu leaders in the US have decided to attend an inter-faith meeting with the Pope, who is visiting the country, even as some religious groups plan protests against what they claim is aggressive proselytisation by certain Christian denominations.

Hindu and Jain leaders are among the 200 religious representatives attending the meeting called "Peace Our Hope" with Pope Benedict XVI in Washington on Thursday.

The event includes a papal address, greetings from religious leaders and presentation of symbolic gifts by young members of each community.

Uma Mysorekar, president of New York-based Hindu Temple Society of North America, defended her decision to attend.

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"The Pope is a leader of the Christians and we should respect him just like we would expect our Shankaracharya to be respected," she told IANS.

Terming the protests during the April 15-20 papal visit uncalled for, Mysorekar said the fact that the Pope wanted to meet leaders of other faiths meant he recognised other religions.

Anuttama Das, director (international communication) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon), is also attending the meet.

"We should not demonise each other," said Vineet Chander, Iskcon spokesperson. "Engagement in dialogue is better than breaking down communication."

Chander said Ravi Gupta, an Iskcon devotee and a college professor in Kentucky, would present an Om-shaped incense burner to the Pope at the meet.

A 10-member Jain delegation will be led by Dilip V Shah, president of the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA), and Arvind Vora, chairperson of JAINA's inter-faith committee.

Aditya Vora, a Jain student in Pennsylvania, will present to the Pope a metallic cube representing the Jain principles of non-violence and diversity of viewpoints.

Sikhs had to back out from the papal event because they were not allowed to carry their symbolic kirpans for security reasons.

Meanwhile, the Hindu Collective Initiative of North America, that claims to represent many Hindu temples and organisations, is supporting a protest march Friday in New York when the Pope will be in town.

The Forum for the Protection of Religious Pluralism is holding the march to raise public awareness of "religions that have been victimised by aggressive proselytisation campaigns grounded in religious exclusivism run by Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians".

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"We are not against any religion," said Satyanarayana Dosapati, an organiser of the event.

"But the religious freedoms of cultures are being abused in many countries and their ancient traditions are being lost at an alarming rate. We can no longer afford to live in a world in which some religions spend billions of dollars each year to spread intolerance and injustice under the guise of humanitarian aid," he said.