08/20/2008, 00.00
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Indian bishops speak out against anti-Christian violence

by Nirmala Carvalho
Anti-Christian violence rises dramatically. In Orissa state no action is taken against the perpetrators of last Christmas’ violence; instead religious men and women are investigated for alleged conversions. In Kerala bishops call on the authorities to find the murderers of Father Thomas who was laid to rest today.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – After the murder of Fr Thomas Pandipally, a Carmelite priest killed and mutilated last Saturday, India’s bishops have voiced their concern over the dramatic rise in anti-Christian violence and the authorities’ failure to act against it. Because of this in Kerala bishops said they want to see the arrest of those who killed the priest who was buried today. The bishop of Orissa complained that the authorities are more concerned to demonstrate eventual cases of proselytism rather than apprehend for justice those behind the Christmas violence when churches and schools were torched and a few Christians killed

Fr Thomas Pandipally, a parish priest in Andhra Pradesh, was buried today. He was killed in barbaric way just a few days ago. He was a native of the diocese of Palai in Kerala like Fr Johnson Prakash Moyalan, a Salesian clergyman killed last 1 July.

The Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC) issued a statement expressing “shock and anguish” over Fr Thomas Pandipally’s brutal killing, a man who had “dedicated his life to help people.” In the statement the prelates called on the government to protect missionaries who work for “the country’s poor and marginalised.”

Fr Anthoniraj Thumma, secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches, said that the area where Father Thomas was killed had a history of anti-Christian violence, most notably against Christian institutions like schools and hospitals for the poor, unpopular especially among those who run for profit facilities.

For his part Mgr Raphael Cheenath (in photo), archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubanewsawr in Orissa, slammed the authorities for failing to prosecute those responsible for the Christmas violence when thousands of Hindu extremists systematically and in an organised fashion hunted down Christians in certain villages, destroying and burning churches and tens of Christian homes, killing some and forcing many more to flee and find refuge in the forest for weeks. “The culprits are free and proud of their impunity,” he said.

On 15 July Monsignor Cheenath testified before the judicial inquiry, known as the Panigrahi Commission, which was set up to conduct a criminal investigation into the events. Three priests, two nuns and a deacon also testified.

However, all the Commission asked was whether there were any conversions. In some Indian states converting Hindus to other religions is a serious crime punished by time in prison.

“The commission did not ask us who the aggressors were; who destroyed churches and convents. There was only the odd question about police inaction” since law enforcement agencies did not intervene for days in many areas.

“I was able to get back to the devastated area only 42 days after the attacks,” said Archbishop Cheenath. Instead the members of the commission asked Catholic religious “about how many people we converted.”

“The central government gave us assurances that we would get compensation, but so far all we got were IR 1.6 million (US$ 40,000) to rebuild our dispensaries, computer centres, etc. Damages are around at least 30 million. But the destruction of churches, convents and other religious buildings does not count for the authorities.”

Sister Suma, regional superior of the Missionaries of Charity, told AsiaNews that “the Commission only asked how we converted. We told them our grand-parents were already Catholic.”

To celebrate Mother’s birthday and baptism (26 and 27 August), her Sisters will be in Baliguda from 23 to 30 August, to set up a medical centre and visit door-to-door, hopeful that relations between Christians and Hindus can improve. The town was the scene of serious anti-Christian violence.

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