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The Rediff Special/ Vaihayasi P Daniel in New Delhi
Bush preaches religious tolerance, lauds India
March 03, 2006
Father Dominic Emmanuel arrived for tea at the Maurya Sheraton Hotel at the Diplomatic Enclave in New Delhi with a few impressions of United States President George W Bush already formed in his mind.
Having seen the American President so many times on television issuing proclamations on war and edicts on Iraq, Father Emmanuel figured Bush was a stern man.
And perhaps not that likeable.
When Father Emmanuel and other religious leaders -- representing the many religions practiced in India -- were invited to meet the American President for an interfaith meeting, he expected it to be a formal affair. They were all seated in one of the hotel's banquet rooms awaiting a special announcement of Bush's arrival.
"He just walked in (without an announcement). We suddenly heard behind us a 'Hi guys. Are you alright?'" said Father Emmanuel.
"I was pleasantly surprised. He was a very simple person. Very informal. Very likeable. You don't expect this of a man who is the President. Our leaders are also very nice, but they keep a distance. There was no distance with him. We mingled with him. It was a very informal meeting with him talking in between and telling us to be brief and that he had some politicians to meet who would be mad at him if he kept them waiting," he added.
Father Emmanuel -- who has served for the Catholic order, Societas Verbi Divini (Society for the Divine Word) in Indore and in Khargaon in Madhya Pradesh -- is the spokesperson of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese.
He has spent 10 years abroad, in Manila in the Philippines and studying communication in Britain (he even worked with the BBC), and wrote the screenplay of the Mahesh Bhatt-produced film Aisa Kyo Hota Hai -- that highlights the dangers of unprotected sex and offers a message of religious harmony.
In his three-minute speech to Bush, Father Emmanuel spoke about how various religions have co-existed in India for centuries and about the Catholic Church's role in India in rendering healthcare, education and development in rural areas.
He also spoke about his film. "I asked them for help in promoting the film. And he looked at his officers."
Also present at the meeting were US Ambassador to India David Mulford and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They came in and shook hands with everyone but did not contribute much to the meeting except by way of their presence.
"He (Bush) always addressed me through the meeting as Father. Everybody else he called 'Sir.' Of course, I was dressed in my cassock. One could tell that he was genuinely interested in promotion of freedom of religion. He spoke about how it was so important for different religions to live together side by side and that India was a supreme example of how this was being done. And that India offers freedom of religion like America. He spoke about how people must be allowed to practice their own religion and that would bring peace in the world and that he believed in the God Almighty but was a Methodist," Father Emmanuel added.
Thirty-five minutes with a charming President Bush has, of course, not converted Father Emmanuel to the US stand on war.
"We are against all kinds of violence and nature opposes war. That still remains our stand," Father Emmanuel said. "But we do join his war against anti-life forces (abortion) and his upholding of family values."
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