02/25/2009, 00.00
INDIA
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Government blocks rebuilding of church in Orissa

by Nirmala Carvalho
The church was about to be turned into a Hindu temple. The authorities have stopped construction, but they are not permitting the Catholics to rebuild the edifice, for "legal" reasons.

Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - The church of Batticola, destroyed by Hindu extremists and replaced with a temple, may not be rebuilt: the government is not giving permission, because the Christian community does not hold the deed of ownership.

Just a few days ago, some news agencies reported that the government of Orissa had stopped construction of a Hindu temple on the rubble of the edifice, in the district of Kandhamal, which was razed to the ground and burned last August at the beginning of the pogrom against Christians.

But local sources tell AsiaNews that the report of the cease and desist order given to the Hindu extremists "does not make us happy, because the authorities are not permitting us to rebuild the church in the same place. The government is demanding that the diocese show the deed of ownership for the property. So we have filed a complaint, and we will see when we go to court."

The church of Batticola was built on a tract of land bought in the name of a tribal priest, who is now deceased. Since there is no evidence that the ownership was passed to other parties, the government is bringing into crisis the legality of the building itself.

A priest who was pastor in Batticola for a few years explains: "The Catholic community in Batticola is a very small minority, which emerged around 1975. At that time, a tribal priest, Fr. Joseph Pradhan, bought a tract of land in his own name and built a church on it. All of this is legal, and the church of Batticola has the same status as other non-Christian religious buildings, all of them used for the needs of the inhabitants of the village, the land for which is bought by individuals and then transferred to the community."

"In 1995, a dispensary was added to the chapel, and the foundations were laid for a larger church. This began to annoy the Hindu extremists, who, bearing arms, repeatedly threatened the priest at the time, Fr. Norbert Nayak. They also vandalized the nearby cemetery, destroying all of the crosses. In the end, the priest had to abandon the area, and the parish was closed."

In 1998, other priests tried to reopen it and to live in Batticola. But in 2000, there was an attempt to destroy it, again on the part of young Hindu extremists.

According to Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, Batticola is a special target of the anti-Christian campaign. "Last October," he recalls, "the radical Hindus spread false information according to which there had been a meeting in Batticola to decide to kill the swami Laxamananda Saraswati." The death of the swami last August 23 was the spark that ignited the series of attacks that killed at least 500 people, destroyed thousands of homes, burned hundreds of churches, and made more than 50,000 faithful flee.

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