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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sikhs choose daggers over event with pope

Followers of a major Indian religion have been frozen out of an upcoming interfaith meeting with Pope Benedict XVI because of the group's insistence on wearing ceremonial daggers.

The meeting, scheduled for April 17 at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center near Catholic University, originally included Sikhs, as well as Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist guests. But a guest list released yesterday by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops substituted followers of another India-based religion — the Jains — in place of the Sikhs.

According to Sikh leaders, at issue was the Secret Service forbidding the wearing of the "kirpan," a dagger that is required dress for all Sikhs. Its followers liken its importance to their faith in the same way Orthodox Jewish men are required to wear a yarmulke.

Anahat Kaur, secretary general of the World Sikh Council/America Region near San Francisco, said Pope John Paul II met with kirpan-bearing Sikhs at the Vatican in January 2002.

"We were pretty disappointed," she said. "At an event meant to promote understanding between faiths, we would have had to renounce a fundamental tenet of our faith to attend. The Secret Service had every opportunity to investigate and vet the people coming and see whether we were safe to be there. We thought that would be enough."

Kirpans are only used in self-defense as a last resort, she added. Because kirpans are not allowed on airplanes, she said, many Sikhs will drive instead of fly. Numbered at more than 20 million adherents, Sikhism is the world's fifth largest religion. It has about 250,000 members in the United States. [Link]

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