Thursday, 11 December 2003

Jammu (Fides Service) – After the cease fire signed on 25 November Catholics who fled Kashmir hope soon to return to their homes. Hundreds of Catholic families left Kashmir in 1989-90 when terrorism entered the valley and violence began to spread. Thomas Latif spokesman for Catholics overseas told Fides that he hoped “the cease fire will hold and will not be affected by acts of provocation and minor episodes of violence which unfortunately continue. We want to return to our homes and resume an honourable and dignified life”.
In early December Catholics who fled the valley, with numerous Hindus and Muslims, anxious for help from the local Church sent a message to the Indian Bishops’ Conference with a request for assistance. Catholic families and refugee camps are assisted by a local Kashmir Catholic organisation called “Sabha”.
When the cease fire was signed Bishop Peter Celestine Elampassery, of Jammu-Srinagar diocese, the only diocese in Kashmir, launched through Fides an appeal to the governments of 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”.
The Catholic community in Kashmir consists of about 12,000 Catholics assisted by 41 priests, 160 Sisters and 20 catechists living among 12 million Muslims (70%), Hindus Sikhs and Buddhists. The diocese, the second 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 11/12/2003 lines 33 words 360)