India Bishop Cancels Christmas Celebrations

Oncoming Elections Bring Security Concerns

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LUCKNOW, India, DEC. 9, 2008 ( Faced to increased security concerns leading up to national elections, Bishop Gerald Mathias of Lucknow has cancelled traditional Christmas festivities in his diocese.

Aid to the Church in Need reported that the bishop of the northern Indian diocese called off the activities that normally draw tens of thousands of people to the city, including an annual Christmas «Dance Drama,» and a traditional event for the chief minister of the state, governor and other dignitaries.

The diocesan vicar general, Father Ignatius D’Souza, explained to the charity that the period preceding a major election is an unstable time, with the «risk of aggressive acts by extremist political parties determined to influence voting by fair means or foul.»

India is set to have general elections — held every five years — by May.

The vicar affirmed: «We are concerned about fundamentalist activity. The extremists’ strategy is very long term and they might see our diocesan Christmas activities as an opportunity to take action.

«Although we have very good security arrangements for the events and have an excellent relationship with the local police department here, we can’t be too careful. You don’t know the mind of those wanting to stir up trouble.»

The priest added that the elimination of certain festivities is made also in a spirit of solidarity with Christians in Orissa, victims of a wave of anti-Christian violence at the hands of Hindu fundamentalists. On Dec. 2 the episcopal conference of India issued a statement encouraging bishops to unite in prayer with other religious groups, out of concern for the Christians of that east central state, as well as the victims of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai at the end of last month.

Local Muslim leaders announced Saturday that they were also reducing Eid celebrations.

Father D’Souza stated that in spite of the cancellations, people were invited to visit a Christmas story exhibit at the cathedral, and light a candle according to custom.

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