Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – A Catholic priest, Salesian Fr. John Prakash, 62 years old was killed last night in Sirsiya (Morang district), in east Nepal. He is the first priest to be killed in the country. Police have opened an inquest into his death, their suspicions falling on a terrorist group.
Fr. John Prakash, a native of Kerala India had worked in Nepal for over 10 years (see photo). He was the principal of Don Bosco School and lived along with two other Salesians in their residence attached to the school. Fr. George Kalangara, the parish vicar told AsiaNews that during the night a group of armed men broke into the priest’s residence and immobilised Fr. Mathew who had only just joined the community in Nepal. Another resident priest Fr. Lazarus Maradi was travelling abroad at the time. The group then turned on Fr. Prakash demanding money. “Then we don’t know really what happened” – says Fr. Kalangara – “we only know that there was an explosion. When the police arrived there were signs of a struggle. On one side of the room the windows were smashed and broken glass was everywhere”.
Police have confirmed that the bomb ha sled to widespread damage of the buildings, opened just one year ago. At the scene of the crime the furnishings were completely destroyed.
The security forces suspect an underground terrorist group, the Terai Defence Army, of being behind the attack. A policeman confirmed to AsiaNews that leaflets belonging to the group were found in the complex. Twice in the past the group had demanded money from the school principal. Police reported that there were bills amounting to 600 US dollars as well as Indian Rupees and Nepalese coins littered on the ground at the scene of the crime.
Fr. Benjamin Pampackel, another Salesian speaking to AsiaNews, warns against hurried conclusions: “We can only say that Fr. John is no longer here. We will wait for the police inquiry to do its job, in order to understand what really happened and who were responsible”.
Msgr. Anthony Sharma, Nepal’s first bishop, has condemned the incident. He told AsiaNews that he had no knowledge of the group believed to be behind the attack.
The Private Boarding School Association of Nepal, Pabson, has also condemned the murder and has asked for urgent government action to bring those guilty to justice.
The Salesian fathers who work in Morang district, are not only committed to education projects but also to development of rural villages, healthcare for mothers and children, and training of healthcare professionals as well as pastoral work.
This assassination - performed by a terrorist group -is the first to mark the history of the Catholic Church in Nepal. In the past however, other priests and religious have been subjected to threats and robberies. In 1997 a Jesuit priest was killed in a robbery.
Nepal’s Catholics count 7 thousand out of a population of 25 million.