09/22/2008, 00.00
INDIA
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Catholic priest killed in Meerut diocese (Agra)

by Nirmala Carvalho
The clergyman lived like an Indian ascetic in an ashram, preaching peace and promoting inter-faith dialogue. Nothing is known of the motive behind the deed; police will not exclude a botched robbery attempt as the possible cause. The funeral is scheduled for tomorrow.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Another Catholic priest has been murdered in India. Fr Samuel Francis (in photo), better known as Swami Astheya (he who is without greed), was found dead this morning in the chapel of his ashram in the village of Chota Rampur. His hands were tied behind his back, his mouth gagged (with cloth) and injuries on his forehead. The 50-ear-old clergyman dressed like an Indian Sanyasin (Hindu monks who lead an ascetic life) and lived in an ashram (monastery) where he taught yoga and meditation.

Chota Rampur, the village where the catholic priest found a refuge, is located 27 kilometres from Dehradun, in the Suffragan diocese of Agra archdiocese, or some 400 kilometres from New Delhi.

How and why he was murdered is not yet clear, but police will not exclude the possibility that it might have been a robbery gone badly wrong. The ashram was in fact ransacked and a woman suffering from psychological problems was also found dead in the ashram’s warehouse.

Fr Davis Varayilan, professor at Samanvayan Theological College, said he knew the slain priest and had nothing but words of praise for his generosity, good heart and intelligence.

This is a great tragedy for the Church in India,” he said. “We used to send our seminarians for an experience to his Ashram, and in the early 1980s he was in charge of the youth in Meerut Diocese.”

His ashram had become a beacon for inter-faith dialogue and harmony among people.

“He was much loved and respected by all: Hindus, inter-faith harmony and unity, He was a holy person and his spirituality was well respected by all Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, the poor and the marginalised.”

Fr Francis embodied the India’s spirit, best exemplified by the Sanyasi lifestyle which calls for no meat and a rigid vegetarian diet.

Killing so brutally such a man who worked for the betterment of society is a crime against humanity,” said Father Davis.

Swami Astheya’s funeral will be held tomorrow morning at 11 am local time in Chota Rampur village.

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