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Indian pilgrims attacked on the way to Marian shrine

NEW DELHI (UCAN): Indian police arrested six suspected members of Hindu Munnani, a hardline Hindu group, for attacking 40 Catholics taking part in a 450-kilometre pilgrimage to a Marian shrine in Velankanni, in Tamil Nadu state.
 
Santhalingam, an inspector at Natrampalli police station in Vellore district, explained that the attackers were accused of blocking the pilgrims on a public road on August 18, beating them up and verbally abusing them. The six suspects have been remanded in custody as police investigate the case. 
 
They face charges of attempted murder, rioting, hurting religious sentiments and acting to destroy religious peace.
 
A Marian statue the pilgrims were carrying in a decorated hand-pulled cart was destroyed in the attack, Santhalingam said on August 21.
 
Church officials said the pilgrims, who started their journey from neighbouring Karnataka, continued their journey under police protection.
 
“The attack is an open threat to the constitutional freedom of expression and freedom of movement to a citizen of the country,” Father Cyril Victor Joseph, director of the communication centre in the Archdiocese of Bangalore, said.
 
“Such attacks are a serious threat to peace and harmony, especially between people of different religious groups. Though the attack was on a small group, the message is for all Christians. It was an open threat against public expression and practice of our faith,” he said.
 
Officials of the Catholic bishops’ forum in Tamil Nadu said the pilgrimage has been held annually for more than a century. 
 
The renowned Portuguese-built shrine on the coast of the Bay of Bengal is the site of nine days of festivities that end on September 8, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
 
“Groups of Catholics, including women and children, walk for days singing hymns and loudly saying prayers including the Rosary,” Benedict Jaikumar, a local Catholic, explained.
 
Jaikumar, who is connected with the group that was attackedsaid that no one was seriously injured in the attack. 
 
“For over a century people, irrespective of their religion, have taken part in the Marian feast in Velankanni. It used to be a peaceful affair,” Father L. Sahayaraj, deputy secretary of Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council, said, adding, “Such acts of violence can only spread seeds of hatred among people.” 
 

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