Wednesday, 26 November 2003

Srinagar (Fides Service) – “The cease fire is a blessing from God! It comes at the end of Ramadan and it is the Lord’s gift to all the people of Kashmir so sorely tried. We welcome the treaty with great enthusiasm and hope. All the religious communities, Christian, Muslim and Hindu, have been praying incessantly for peace for a long time!” Bishop Peter Celestine Elampassery of Jammu-Srinagar diocese, Kashmir told Fides hours after India and Pakistan agreed to a cease fire on the Kashmir border starting from midnight 25 November.
Bishop Elampassery, Kashmir’s only Catholic Bishop, told Fides that in Srinagar, the region’s summer capital (Jammu is the winter capital), “people were already celebrating the end of Ramadan with the usual enthusiasm. The announcement of the cease fire led to euphoria among Pakistanis accustomed to living in fear of violence and fighting. Today, after a long time, no shooting can be heard, there is an atmosphere of peace and brotherhood which we hope will be lasting. We hope the cease fire will hold because this will mean that tourism in Kashmir can resume. This would give the necessary boost to small businesses, hand crafts, shops, and hasten the return to normality”.
Through Fides Bishop Elampassery has a request to make to India and Pakistan: “We ask politicians and heads of state to keep their promises! The cease fire must be a first step towards a lasting peace agreement for this tormented region which has suffered the consequences of war for 50 years, with more than 70,000 dead, thousands of homeless and countless tragedies. The end of hostilities must mean the beginning of serious dialogue, regular transport between India and Pakistan and an agreement which is a compromise of the requests made by the two sides. We hope goodwill may prevail and that an end will be put to violence which has lasted too long”.
Bishop since 1998, Mgr. Peter Celestine Elampassery, Capuchin, guides the vast diocese of Jammu-Srinagar, 222.000 sq. km. With the assistance of 41 priests, 160 Sisters and 20 catechists he cares for a small community of 12.000 Catholics living among 12 million Muslims (70%), Hindus Sikhs and Buddhists. The diocese, the largest in India by area, includes three regions: the Kashmir valley, where most of the people are Muslims; Ladakh, a mainly Buddhist province, and Jammu with equally large communities of Muslims and Hindus.
(PA) (Fides Service 26/11/2003 lines 39 words 458)