06/16/2005, 00.00
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At the desecrated shrine, the faithful pray for the vandals

Jabalpur Catholic community starts praying, fasting and adoration in response to acts of vandalism visited upon the Infant Jesus Shrine.

Jabalpur (AsiaNews/UCAN) – For the past two days, Catholics in the diocese of Jabalpur in the central Indian State of Madya Pradesh have been praying for the vandals who desecrated the Infant Jesus Shrine—this is their peaceful reaction to the acts of desecration that took place four days against the shrine that both they and Hindus venerate.

On June 12, unidentified youth threw rotten eggs and coloured water against the shrine which comes under nearby Holy Trinity parish church—the church itself was vandalised on June 5.

Fr. Joseph Periyapuram, Holy Trinity parish priest, said that over the years the shrine has become popular and many of the visitors are Hindus.

He said that the repeated attacks induced his parishioners to organise special prayers, masses, adoration and a novena for the Infant Jesus so as to bring about a "change of heart in those who desecrated the holy shrine."

Some 2,000 parishioners prayed together on June 14 and 15. They plan to start the nine-day novena prayers June 16.

Father Periyapuram said that they also plan to observe a day of fasting as penance for their sins and to seek God's blessings upon those who oppose them.

Mgr Gerald Almeida, Bishop of Jabalpur, endorsed this response based on non violence and prayers.

"I do not believe in demonstrations and other form of protests," he said. "I appeal to Catholics to pray for the miscreants to become good human beings," he added.

He did however press charges "to make the authorities aware of the need to protect Christians".

The district police confirmed that charges for hurting religious sentiments were laid against person or persons unknown, but refused to comment on the motive for the attacks.

Bishop Almeida did not name any names but said some groups are "at work" against Christians Madya Pradesh.

Lawrence Masih, a parishioner, said the rising popularity of these shrines could be a reason for the attacks.

Acts such as the shrine attacks are "cheap ways" of gaining publicity and creating communal discord, Bishop Almeida suggested.

Christian groups in Madhya Pradesh have faced escalating attacks from fundamentalist Hindu groups in the past two years, particularly after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in the state in December 2003.

The BJP endorses a fundamentalist view of Hinduism and is India's main opposition party.

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