A leading bishop from northeast India says violence and intimidation by some Protestant groups there are preventing thousands of people from converting to Catholicism.
Bishop of Kohima Jose Mukala told the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that there has been an upsurge in attacks and propaganda against the Catholic Church in Kohima, a mainly Protestant region.
There have been thinly-veiled threats on his life, church buildings have been destroyed, and a ban on conversions has been imposed by some village elders.
While visiting ACN’s international headquarters in Germany, Bishop Mukala spoke out against some Baptist and Evangelical church groups in the region, charging that people are being denied freedom of religion.
"There is a big increase in the number of people in the diocese wanting to become Catholic but there is very strong opposition among some of the local Protestant leaders," the bishop told ACN. "These issues have got a lot worse recently… If this opposition stopped, there would be a flood of conversions to Catholicism."
He reported that some Evangelicals in local self-governing churches and a number of Baptists in Kohima were alarmed at the growth of Catholicism.
Catholicism arrived in the region as late as 1951, when the first Catholics were baptized. There are now 58,000 among the region’s 1.9 million people, most of whom are Evangelical Christians.
Describing a visit to Catholic families in a small village of the diocese, Bishop Mukala said he was suddenly called to a parish meeting where the elder warned of "something happening to him" if he returned.
"When he told me this, I replied that if something did happen to me, it would be the elder’s responsibility. So far, nothing has happened," the bishop told ACN.
In another village Christian fundamentalists are accused of destroying a Catholic church which could only be rebuilt under police protection.
The threat of further violence has forced the bishop to begin lawsuits against individuals accused of attacks on the Church.
Bishop Mukala said that religious leaders are not to blame for the anti-Catholic activity, but rather local fanatics and village leaders in specific villages.
"They say there should be one state, one tribe and one religion. We are trying to convince them that they must allow people to be free."
He said that Catholicism was growing in the area in part because diocesan schools have a better reputation than government alternatives. Sixteen of the 20 top-performing schools in the region are Catholic, while the diocese’s 150 Catholic schools serve more than 30,000 students.
The bishop credited the religious sisters running the schools.
"Discipline is good and the management of the school is effective. The Catholic Church has placed an emphasis on integrity and hard work and that attracts people… There is also a genuine desire among people wanting to become Catholic. People want to know what we believe and why."
Bishop Mukala also thanked ACN for its support and encouraged prayers for the charity.
The charity has helped with 37 projects in the diocese over the past decade, including aid for poor and persecuted priests, building new churches and presbyteries, and providing motorcycles and other transport for clergy in remote areas.
ACN is also printing and distributing catechetical programs the ACN Child’s Bible in the local languages of Lotha and Angami.