Bishop applauds abolishment of Nepal's 239-year-old monarchy

KATMANDU, Nepal (CNS) -- The bishop of Nepal described the recent abolishment of Nepal's 239-year-old Hindu monarchy as "truly a great achievement."

Catholics, "as citizens of the country, deserve to be proud, and we rejoice with the nation and our brothers and sisters. We thank God for his blessings," Bishop Anthony Sharma of Nepal told the Asian church news agency UCA News May 29.

Nepal's Constituent Assembly voted overwhelmingly to abolish the monarchy May 28, a day after its members were sworn in in the capital, Katmandu. The assembly gave the king 15 days to leave office.

The announcement that assembly members had voted to support the proposal for the implementation of a republic was not made until close to midnight. Despite the late hour, people thronged the streets of the capital, singing, dancing and waving the flags of various political parties to welcome the republic.

The Constituent Assembly, elected by the people in April, is drafting a new constitution and will act as a parliament for a term of five years. The Maoists, who until 2006 fought a decadelong war to establish a communist republic, form the single largest party.

"Nepal has again made history and shown that dialogue is a way to peace and ultimate prosperity ... especially to those countries where armed struggle is still on," Bishop Sharma said.

"It is also a sad day for the monarchy. It is sad indeed that it did not know its time had come," he said. As a seminarian in the 1960s, Bishop Sharma taught King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev and his brother at Jesuit-run St. Joseph's College in Darjeeling, India. Bishop Sharma had told UCA News in April that the 60-year-old monarch had only himself to blame for some very bad judgment.

The monarchy came under immense pressure when pro-democracy rallies defied curfews and shoot-on-sight warnings, forcing the king to reconvene in April 2006 the parliament he had dismissed in May 2002. The parliament then stripped King Gyanendra of most of his power and gave itself the power to appoint the army chief, to deploy military forces and to remove "royal" from all official documents. The king had consolidated power in himself, saying this was necessary to end the Maoist conflict that claimed more than 11,000 lives since it began in 1996. However, after the parliament and the government were reinstated, the Maoists signed a peace accord with the government in 2006.

Christians in Nepal have had freedom to practice their faith only since 1991, when a new constitution established religious freedom and changed the absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. Before that, conversion from one religion to another was illegal in the kingdom, with conversion or attempts to convert others considered criminal offenses and punishable by imprisonment.

The Nepal Catholic Directory counts 7,500 Catholics among the 1 million or so Christians in Nepal. More than 80 percent of the country's 28 million people are Hindus.

Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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