Attacks on Catholic Churches in India Continue

Muslim Fundamentalists Blamed for Incident in Tamil Nadu

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MATAHL, India, DEC. 13, 2004 ( A group of extremists recently attacked the Catholic church of St. Francis of Assisi in Mathal, Diocese of Kottar, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The Indian episcopate told the missionary agency Fides last Thursday that a group of fanatics broke down the door, smashed windows, and destroyed the statue of St. Francis outside the church Dec. 3. Investigators found a rudimental handmade unexploded bomb inside the church. Police said Muslim fundamentalists were to blame.

Days before the Catholic parish priest and community received threats, and anti-Christian slogans appeared on the church walls, signed by a group called Byath. According to the local press, Byath is the name of a local extremist group.

The pastor, identified only as Father Perpetual, told the Fides agency how surprised he was by the attack as «in this area Hindus, Christians and Muslims have always lived peacefully side by side.»

Recently episodes of religious fundamentalism, of which the Catholic community in India has been a victim, prompted the bishops to appeal to the central government for more protection.

The ruling Congress Party said that a law to halt interreligious violence will soon be presented to Parliament. The bill will include compensation for victims, speedier investigation to identify perpetrators of attacks on places of worship or individuals, and harsher punishments.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 5, the state of Chhattisgarh was the scene of another attack against Christians. Naxalite rebels ransacked and burned down the Church of Matha Mary in the village of Pusnar, in Jagdalpur Diocese.

Some boys entered the church and ran away with religious hymn books and the missal when they saw the pastor. Later, around 9 p.m., about 20 individuals entered the building after breaking open the door, threw straw inside the church, and set it on fire.

The local bishop said the same church was attacked two months ago. In October, a group entered the church, took away the vestments and holy pictures, and then visited four Catholic families, robbing them of valuables.

Bishop Simon Stock Palathra of Jagdalpur deplored the fact that «till today none of the criminals have been nabbed, even though the police know the attackers,» reported AsiaNews.

According to the bishop, the Naxali, who are responsible for the incidents, «do not want the tribals to become Catholic or Hindu. They want them «to retain their tribal culture as it suits them to rule over them.»

The Naxali operate in central India and say they are using violence to claim the rights of peasants who have been left landless.

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