04/12/2007, 00.00
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Persecution strengthens our faith, says archbishop of Hyderabad

by Nirmala Carvalho
Widespread and persistent suspicion surrounds Christians in Andhra Pradesh. Hindu extremists threaten and sometimes act out violently against them. Mgr Joji talks about the situation stressing how persecution strengthens believers’ faith and unity among themselves and with the Church.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – In Andhra Pradesh Christians are mistrusted and held under suspicion, frequently targeted for violence, charged with trying to convert Hindus. Speaking to AsiaNews, Mgr Marampudi Joji, archbishop of Hyderabad, talks about the difficult situation which leaves so many people in uncertainty and yet strengthens their understanding of the meaning of Easter.

Yesterday, some Evangelical Christians were assaulted in Chittor district by about 70 Hindu extremists who took away and burnt their Christian literature whilst taking picture of themselves as they were perpetrating the deed.

The pastor of the Bhakti Singing Assembly, who headed the group, said that assailants “took away the Gospel from the hands of some of the faithful, accusing them of carrying out forced conversions. They started slapping and hitting us with sticks,” including some young women.

In another incident on April 5, Hyderabad police interrogated 27 American tourists from the Youth Wing Mission who had visited some poor neighbourhoods giving out candies and sweets. Because of that they were accused of trying to “entice the children.” They were also accused of offering prayers for the well-being of local residents, said B. Sumathi, assistant commissioner. But it “could not be established that the visitors were engaged in conversion activity” and “the alleged offensive activity [evangelisation] took place outside the temple, which again is not an offence.”

For Mgr Marampudi Joji, “Christians in Andhra Pradesh are always suspect to [Hindu] extremists. They are intimidated on the pretext that they allegedly try to convert others. [In reality] the extremists do not miss a chance to attack the Christian faith and believers. But this persecution confirms us in our will to bear witness for Christ with the help of His Spirit.”

“On Good Friday, I led the Via Crucis through the main streets of Secunderabad, carrying a heavy cross part of the way. The entire diocese took part in the procession. But then rumours spread that there were some ‘Christian agitators.’ Fortunately, we were so numerous that nothing happened to us,” he said.

“In a way, this persecution has heightened the awareness among the Christians of the Passion and Death of Jesus and of the Victory of the Resurrection,” he noted. Thanks to it, “the faithful are not only united, but their fidelity to the Church has been strengthened.”

One sore spot for the prelate is Y. R. Rajasekhar Reddy. Although he is Andhra Pradesh’s Chief Minister and a Christian, he has done very little for his fellow Christians.

“Sadly, and this is the tragedy, the chief minister is under constant scrutiny of the Hindu extremists,” the archbishop said. “He is forever targeted and criticised [by them] for his own Christian faith.”

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