11/25/2006, 00.00
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Road improvement to wipe out Christian cemetery, spare shopping centres in Mumbai

by Nirmala Carvalho

Mumbai's archbishop tells AsiaNews that the city's proposal is unacceptable. He stresses how Catholics have always been law-abiding and involved in improving society.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – India's Catholic community "has always taken into consideration the needs of society at large. Catholics have shown tremendous responsibility and dedication to the common good" for this reason the "government should be sensitive to things [they] hold dear [such as] structures of sentimental value, very ancient monuments which have been in place for generations [built] by their ancestors," said Mgr Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai in a interview to AsiaNews after Mumbai municipal authorities announced that in order to widen and improve a local road, they plan to tear down elements of two Catholic churches: the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Holy Cross and the burial grounds of St Andrew's Church in the western neighbourhood of Bandra, and parts of the compound of St Peter's Church on Hill Road, also in Bandra.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai sent St Andrew's parish priest an official notice saying that it would "take physical possession of the open space [near the church] by demolishing the compound wall with risks and costs to go to the Church".

There are however no "open spaces" upon which the road can be built. Instead the small grotto, the Holy Cross and a section of the Catholic cemetery will be torn down.

By contrast, the shopping malls built in front of the places of worship will be left untouched even though their land is as useful as that of the churches.

Catholics, the archbishop said, "have always shown their civic duty towards the wider community and worked actively and sacrificed themselves for the greater good, serving those in need irrespective of caste and creed."

"The government should therefore be more sensitive to what they hold dear," he said, like "religious matters and very ancient monuments which were put in place generations ago by our ancestors. The government should modify its plan so as take into serious consideration the religious sentiments of the Christian community."

"St Andrew's in Bandra has been in existence for the last 400 years. The grotto of Our lady of Lourdes and the Holy Cross have been there since times immemorial and are objects of great religious devotion for Catholics but also people of other faiths," Fr Vernon Aguiar, parish priest at St Andrew's, told AsiaNews. "There are no open spaces to speak of unless you count the graves that contain the mortal remains of our dead".

"The Church has always been law-abiding. It has worked for development and progress in society. Now society is working against us," Father Aguiar lamented. "Christians feel vulnerable and perhaps targeted because of their virtues of peace and tolerance".

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