CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 20 October 2018

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Unease for Christians in India

MADHAYA PRADESH (Agencies): Christians in India are facing more danger than ever before. 
 
On January 4, in the latest of a series of incidents more than 900 members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (All Indian Student Council), a right-wing nationalist Hindu student group, threatened to forcibly perform the Aarti of Bharat Mata rite, the Hindu offering of incense to the personification of India as Mother Goddess, represented by the goddess Durga (dressed in an orange sari and accompanied by a lion) and other Hindu deities at St. Mary’s Post Graduate College in Vidisha, in the diocese of Sagar in Madhya Pradesh, central India. 
 
The college’s director Father Shaju Devassy said the incident was a symbolic attempt to impose Hindu dominance over minorities.
 
“It challenged the constitutional right of religious and ethnic minorities to own and manage institutions to help their communities,” he added.
 
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said that those who want to impose the worship of Hindu deities in India’s Catholic schools “are not nationalists, but ultranationalists, terrorists.” 
 
“Their action is anti-constitutional, anti-democratic and violates our personal freedom,” the bishop said.
 
Bishop Mascarenhas said, “The Madhya Pradesh police assured Church authorities (of) full police protection. The priests who manage the college, however, feel that the situation is potentially very dangerous as over 900 activists were expected to gather in violation of police orders.” 
 
The bishop noted, “There was already an aggression earlier on 30 December 2017 despite the presence of 20 policemen. We need to pray more. We are in touch with the Federal Home Ministry.” 
 
The number of attacks on Christians and churches in India has increased over the past few months. State police detained a group of seminarians and priests in Satna while they were caroling in the villages during the Christmas season of 2017 and their vehicle was set on fire by right-wing fundamentalist groups. 
 
Allegations of converting locals to the Christian faith were later proved to be false. 
 
In September 2017, police found allegations of the forced conversions of 200 people to be fabricated and groundless. Another recent attack against Dalits (Untouchables) in Pune, Maharashtra, left one Dalit dead. Hundreds of thousands protested on the streets of Mumbai. 
 
In the southern state of Kerala, tensions prevail in Bonacaud on the outskirts of the capital, Thiruvananthapuram, a pilgrimage centre of Diocese of Neyyattinkara. 
 
Vandals destroyed a huge concrete cross on the hills in August 2017 and the faithful demanded that it be re-erected. 
 
On January 5, as thousands of people from different parishes in the diocese gathered for a pilgrimage, to the site, state police blocked their way resulting in a standoff. Several people, including priests, religious sisters and police, were injured in the ensuing mélee.
 
In the wake of these incidents, the bishops’ conference issued a statement, condemning “this type of terrorism.”
 
It also demanded, “This false nationalism must stop. That mobs of these types are being emboldened as was earlier seen in Satna is worrying and disturbing. It is time for all of us to come together to preserve the traditional brotherhood, peace and harmony in our beloved country. History will not forgive this present generation if we lose that legacy earned through the sacrifices and blood of our freedom fighters”.

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