IMPHAL, India, MAY 16, 2001 (Zenit.org).- More details emerged today about the shooting deaths of three Salesians at a novitiate in northeast India on Tuesday.
Father Jonas Kerketta, vice provincial of the Salesian province of Dimapur, gave this account to his congregation´s ANS news service:
At 6:26 p.m. Tuesday, a white van stopped at the novitiate of the Salesians of Don Bosco, in Ngarian, a small village about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from Imphal.
Three gunmen in uniform got out of the van. One guarded the gate and the other asked the maid to call out the priest in charge.
Father Raphael Paliakara, the 43-year-old novice master, came out to meet them. They demanded that all the novices be brought out and that those novices who belonged to the local Naga tribe be separated from the rest of the novices.
When Father Paliakara refused to comply, the assailants shot him on the spot.
Hearing the gunfire, Father Andreas Kindo, the 32-year-old assistant director of novices, ran out and saw the body of the priest lying on the ground. He reached over to lift up body but was sprayed with bullets.
Another assistant, 25-year-old Brother Shinu Joseph, who was also in the house, rushed out to help and was also shot. All three Salesians died on the spot. The gunmen then fled.
The frightened novices ran across the fields to the neighboring parish at Yaripok, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) away, and notified the local parish priest who contacted the Salesian community at Imphal.
The reason for the murders is still a mystery. Father Kerketta, the vice provincial, reported that the eight Catholic schools of Imphal, two of them Salesian, had refused to yield to the extortionist tactics of the underground separatist groups. About 80% of India´s 1 billion people are Hindu. Christians comprise only about 2.4% of the nation.
As a precautionary measure and as a sign of protest against the extortion attempts, Catholic schools closed for about a month. Tuesday´s shootings, he speculated, are probably a reaction by the militants.
A funeral for the victims is planned for Thursday at the Salesian College Campus at Dimapur. All Catholic schools in northeast India will remain closed Friday, as a day of mourning and protest.