Cardinal Says Murdered Nun Was Fearless

Coal Mining Companies Suspected in Gruesome Death

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MUMBAI, India, NOV. 29, 2011 ( Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, praised Sister Valsa John for being «fearless» and said she was «a person of courage and faith who gave her life in the service of the Gospel.»

The 52-year-old nun was hacked to death on Nov. 15. She had been working among the tribal communities in a coal mining region near the city of Dumka in the Indian state of Jharkands, for the last 20 years.

Cardinal Gracias, who is archbishop of Mumbai, spoke to the organization Aid to the Church in Need after having visited Sr. John’s family and friends. He said that the nun had received death threats, but was not deterred from her work of defending the local population against the acquisition of their land by coal mining companies.

The cardinal also said there were «question marks» hanging over the handling of the murder case by local police.

Police have arrested a number of Maoist extremists following the murder, but there is widespread speculation that the coal companies were involved.

The killing was strongly condemned by many groups. The Kerala Council of Churches (KCC) issued a statement deploring the murder.

According to a Nov. 22 article published in the newspaper the Hindu the KCC general secretary, Philip N. Thomas, said Sister John was fighting to protect the rights of the local tribal community. He said that activists such as Sister John were frequently attacked by what he termed a «mafia» that does the bidding of the mining companies.

According to Amnesty International the nun was the fourth social activist to have been killed in unexplained circumstances in India this year.

«Indian authorities must take all necessary measures to guarantee that human rights defenders and other social activists are able to carry out their legitimate and peaceful activities without fear of harassment and intimidation,» said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director.

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