New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church of India has condemned the attack against 30 seminarians and two priests in Madhya Pradesh, who were detained by Hindu fundamentalists and held hostage at the Satna police station for several hours.
In a press release yesterday, Mgr Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), said that the latter “expresses its shock, pain and hurt at the unprovoked violence against Catholic priests and seminarians”, noting that “there have been other signs of harassment of the Catholic Church in the last few months”.
Mgr Mascarenhas complained that the priests and seminarians from St Ephrem's Theological College were held up by a group of Hindu extremists whilst “conducting a routine Christmas carol singing programme which has been the practice during the Christmas season for the last 30 years.”
“What is even more shocking is that eight priests who later went to inquire about the detained priests and seminarians were also taken into custody. Shamefully, the situation outside the police station was allowed to be so hostile that even those who wanted to approach the detained persons could get no access to them.”
According to the CBCI secretary general, “The charge of conversion on which the priests and seminarians were detained is frivolous and laughable. The violence perpetrated by groups who claim to be ‘nationalists’ and have taken upon themselves the mantle of protecting ‘nationalism’ and ‘religion’ is disgraceful.”
“The complicity of the police who arrested the seminarians and stood by helplessly as the priests and seminarians were assaulted is disgusting and appalling. Such misuse of the police force and the breakdown of law and order is not tolerable in a democracy and in a civilized society.”
“The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India condemns the behaviour of the goons who even went on to torch the vehicle of the priests. All right-thinking Indians will hang their heads in shame at these terrorists who have taken on the garb of ‘religious police’. We are absolutely sure that they do not speak in the name of our very broad-minded and peace-loving Hindu brethren.”
Mgr Mascarenhas stressed the seriousness of what happened, which occurred a few days after the Indian vice president praised the contribution of Catholics to the nation’s development during the exchange of Christmas greetings with the bishops.
The secretary general mentioned other episodes of intolerance towards religious minorities, like the lynching of Muslims for eating and selling beef. “These acts of cow vigilantes do not bring credit to our democratic nation with its long tradition” as a “model of civilized living and harmonious existence. [. . .] It is time that we go beyond words and promises. Violence is dangerous.”
Finally, “We appeal to our political leadership at the Centre and in the States to bring back the rule of law and order and to deal severely with miscreants that disparage the work of leaders who want to bring peace and development to our peoples. Those who have been ‘fringe elements’ till now cannot be allowed to take centre stage.
“The Christian community has been hailed by political and social leaders across the board as ‘a peace-loving community’ which works with every government at the centre and in the state to engage in nation-building. We will continue to do so. But it is time for our leadership to go beyond words and promises to ensure that every Indian citizen lives without fear and with respect and dignity.”