05/23/2017, 19.46
INDIA
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Catholics are discouraged their church is vandalised, but will rally for peace, says vicar of Hyderabad

Father Bernard Swarna speaks about the attack against Our Lady of Fatima church. Police have provided protection to the diocese, and arrested 22 people. The Archdiocese plans a prayer meeting open to all. “We are not so far from” the persecution described in “the Acts of the Apostles.” For some, the incident has “political-religious motives”.

Hyderabad (AsiaNews) – Two days ago, vandals trashed Our Lady of Fatima Catholic church at Godamakunta in Kundapalli, a village in Keesara mandal, Hyderabad (Telangana). This “is a great shock” for the local Catholic community. “We are deeply hurt” and “discouraged. We shall rally for peace through prayers,” said Father Bernard Swarna, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Hyderabad as he reacted to the act of vandalism.

"Our religious sentiments have been deeply offended,” the clergyman noted. “The attackers entered the church and destroyed everything. For us Catholics, it is very painful to see the statue of Our Lady thrown to the ground, the crucified Christ broken, and the altar turned over." At the same time though, "We received support from Muslims and Hindus who condemned the violence against the church. They expressed their solidarity by participating in an act of prayer."

Fr Swarna added that the Archdiocese is organising a meeting for next Sunday with the participation of religious leaders and ordinary believers to reiterate that, despite the intolerance of Hindu extremists, “praying is important”.

"At first we thought to limit to Catholics, but after receiving so many messages of support, we decided to open it to everyone," he explained. According to the vicar, the vandalising of the church is the work of a "few extremists", unlike "the majority of Hindus with whom we have good relations".

He also thanked the local police for their proven support, which "guaranteed us protection".  Likewise, the authorities have offered “maximum cooperation", as shown by the arrest yesterday of 22 people involved in the vandalising of the place of worship.” Still, “There is a lot of confusion," the prelate said, "and people demand respect. We want to rally for peace."

Today the Archdiocese issued a press release in which it describes the attack against the church, which was inaugurated on 13 May by Archbishop Thumma Bala for the centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.

The communiqué notes that a mob of more than a hundred people broke into the church, threatened the watchman and desecrated the place. “They also attacked Mr. Anantha Reddy, the supervisor of the construction work going on there, who was capturing this act of vandalism on his cellphone” [sic].  This is “a brutal act of violating our fundamental right of freedom to live, practice and worship our faith.”

According to the Archdiocese, damages total around 250,000 rupees (US$ 3,850).

“Such attacks can happen anywhere,” said Mgr Matthew Cheriankunnel in his homily. “We are not so far from [what is said] in “the Acts of the Apostles. In India, persecution is nigh, and we must expect it to come from all sides at any time. We have to live with this reality. "

Fr Rayarala Vijay Kumar, the regional superior of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in India, believes that violence "does not come from the people, from ordinary people, but has political-religious motives. Unlike other confessions, Hinduism has traditionally always been a tolerant religion," but "Today, it is becoming more and more extremist."

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