Every year on 16 January, the Catholic community in Sancoale holds services near the ruins of an old church to remember the great missionary from Goa who brought Catholicism to Sri Lanka. As state elections approach, Hindu extremists are trying to prevent celebrations on the pretext of protecting the archaeological site. Starting on 23 January, local priest will hold a weekly prayer every Sunday for peace and harmony.
Goa (AsiaNews) – Even a prayer novena near the remains of a historic church has become a pretext for more intimidation against Christians in India, which is what happened in Goa.
Not surprisingly, the former Portuguese colony is one of the five Indian states where state elections are scheduled a few weeks from now.
Like every year, the feast of Saint Joseph Vaz will be celebrated next Sunday, 16 January, in Sancoale. The great missionary from Goa brought Catholicism to Sri Lanka where he lived between 1687 and 1711.
Preceded by a novena, celebrations will be held at the site of a ruined church complex that Vaz himself frequented.
Built in 1606, the church was the heart of the local Catholic community for more than 200 years, until it was destroyed by fire in 1834. Only the Baroque facade and the altar were saved, near which a small chapel was later built.
Due to its historical value, the façade of the church of Sancoale is officially recognised by Indian authorities as an architectural heritage site.
As The Goan Network reports, Hindu nationalists are using this as a pretext to launch a campaign on social media against the novena and the feast of Saint Joseph Vaz arguing that they should not be held since the ruins are a “protected archaeological site”.
In a video, they demand that the existing chapel be demolished, ending their video message with a threatening warning: “Now we are telling you peacefully and, in a language, known to you; otherwise, we will have to use another language”.
Pramod Sawant, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is the state’s chief minister. State elections are set for 14 February.
In light of the situation, the Catholic Association of Goa (CAG) addressed an appeal to the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO asking that the necessary steps be taken to ensure safety during the novena and the celebration confirmed on 16 January.
The Goan Network reports that Frs Kennet Teles and Manuel Dias, the priests of the Catholic community in Sancoale, issued a plea for peace and harmony.
The two clergymen stress that there is no evidence of the historic presence of any other religious group at the site, which is owned by a Catholic organisation, the Fabrica of Sancoale Church.
They argue that the controversy stems from a desire to seize the site through a baseless claim and with the sole intention of sowing divisions within the local community.
Lastly, they announce that they have decided that, starting on 23 January, a prayer for peace and a Mass will be celebrated every Sunday at the ancient church “so that the Grace of God and the holiness of Joseph Vaz may radiate from the site of the old church at Sancoale.”