Indian Bishops Condemn Attacks Against Christians

Says Incident Was «Premeditated and Meticulously Planned»

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BOMBAY, India, AUG. 31, 2004 ( Indian Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar said that the attack by Hindu fundamentalists on a Catholic church in his territory was organized and premeditated.

On Aug. 26, in the mid-eastern town of Raikia, a group of militant Hindus attacked the church of Our Lady of Charity, causing damage not only in the church but also in the homes of some Christian citizens who live near the parish.

A statement issued by the Indian bishop’s conference included the account of the parish priest and diocesan vicar general, Father Alphonse Baliarsingh, who said that 300 fundamentalists armed with wooden sticks broke open the main door, invaded the church and destroyed statues of the Virgin Mary, a crucifix and other sacred images.

The assailants burnt a Bible, liturgical books and vestments. They also destroyed the tabernacle and threw its contents on the floor. Other vandalized items include valuable musical instruments, furniture and electrical fittings, said Father Baliarsingh.

The mob then attacked Christian homes and threw rocks at the parish residence, breaking several windows, the priest continued.

Father Barliarsingh added that a few days earlier, a Catholic school in Raikia was threatened, and that 200 young Christians protested publicly, appealing for the intervention and protection of the civil authorities, a protest which might have unleashed the fundamentalists’ reaction.

In a statement on Aug. 27, the bishops condemned the attack on the Raikia church. Temples, mosques, churches, and «‘gurudwaras’ are sacred places for all and nothing untoward should be done to lessen their sanctity,» said Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, president of the Indian espiscopal conference.

Bishop Percival Fernandez, secretary general of the episcopal conference, stressed that the «desecration of holy places goes against the culture of our country. India is known for its acceptance of other religions…and those who perform the heinous acts of disrespecting others’ places of worship do a disservice to humanity.»

The attack on the church was «premeditated and meticulously planned,» said Archbishop Cheenath. «The Christians in Orissa are very peace loving and sensitive to the religious feelings of others,» he added, urging the citizens not to allow themselves to be manipulated by the fundamentalists.

The prelate exhorted the population of Orissa to promote religious tolerance and social harmony, and lodged a complaint with the union government for swift action.

The archbishop wrote a letter to Shiv Raj Patil, Union Minister for Home Affairs, calling for a judicial inquiry into the incident.

The concern of the bishops also refers to another serious incident that occurred in the state of Jharkhand. Father John Sunderam, whose parish was attacked, is still in a coma after being knifed. Father Albinio Tirkey, the assistant parish priest, was also wounded.

The state of Jharkhand is governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which promotes a nationalist and mono-religious ideology, and is supported by fundamentalist movements that oppose the Church’s social service and development programs. The BJP was defeated in the federal election on April 11.

Orissa is also governed by the BJP. It is one of the states with the greatest number of Hindu fundamentalists. Over the past few years, there have been several incidents of violence against religious minorities and Christian communities, particularly to force Christian converts to return to Hinduism.

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