Priest Slain in India

Region Plagued Last Year by Anti-Christian Attacks

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MANGALORE, India, JULY 31, 2009 ( Father James Mukalel, 39, was found dead on the side of the road Thursday in a region that suffered a wave of anti-Christian attacks last year.

The Syro-Malabar Diocese of Belthangady in southern India is mourning the death of the priest. His bishop has discarded the possibility that the slaying was a robbery gone awry.

Bishop Lawrence Mukkuzhy told AsiaNews that «Father James was very much loved by the parishioners and people in this area. He was a good person, and did not have enemies; a zealous missionary, selflessly serving all people; he was inclusive in his mission, serving people of all faiths and creeds.»

The priest was probably killed sometime late Wednesday. He was returning to his parish after celebrating a funeral and making pastoral visits to a few families and a convent in Thottathady.

The Global Council of Indian Christians requested an investigation into this crime and other anti-Christian attacks that have taken place in the state of Karnataka.

Ongoing Hindu-Christian tensions flared into a wave of violence almost a year ago after Hindu extremists in the state of Orissa blamed the slaying of a Hindu leader on Christians. Dozens of Christians, including a priest, were killed, and more than 54,000 fled their homes. Thousands of them are still living in displacement camps.

The violence spread to more than 392 towns, where some 5,000 houses, 149 churches, and 40 schools were destroyed or burned to the ground. In Karnataka, some 20 churches and chapels were destroyed.

In an address to India’s new ambassador to the Holy See last May, Benedict XVI said that «as Chief Shepherd of the Catholic Church, I join religious and governmental leaders throughout the world who share a common desire that all members of the human family enjoy the freedom to practice religion and engage in civil life without fear of adverse repercussions on account of their beliefs.»

He added: «I therefore cannot help but express my deep concern for Christians who have suffered from outbreaks of violence in some areas within your borders.»

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