Jammu (Fides Service) – “We fear for the future. Christianity has been present in Kashmir for 200 years and has never had any difficulty with Muslims or Hindus. The Catholic Church has always been accepted and appreciated by the people” said Bishop Peter Celestine Elampassery of Jammu-Srinager in Indian Kashmir, with regard to recent episodes of violence on Christians in Kashmir, already the centre of an old territorial quarrel between Pakistan and India.
“We Catholics are free to profess our faith, bear witness with our life, to speak to people about Christ. Catholics are involved in education, social assistance to the poor, in hospitals. Today in Kashmir there are many new Christian groups who are very active in missionary work. These are causing alarm among Hindu and Muslim people and also the local authorities who fear a sort of ‘Christian propaganda’. This has broken the existing harmony and explains the episodes of violence in recent times”. According to rumours circulated by the local press, the Christian groups have converted at least 10,000 people.
In May a number of schools were attacked: St Luke’s at Anantang, run by a Protestant group, and Good Shepherd School in Pulwama run by the Mill Hill missionaries. “Today Christians are alarmed” Bishop Elampassery tells Fides Service. But, as Pope John Paul II stressed in his recent meetings with Indian Bishops in Rome, every individual must be guaranteed freedom of belief and religion, a fundamental right of every person.
In the meantime Kashmir is at the centre of a quarrel connected with the Muslim secessionist movement, which has generated a conflict lasting 50 years in which more than 70,000 have been killed. “For Kashmir, the Bishop says, our hopes for peace depend on an improvement in relations between Indian and Pakistan. The people have had enough of the war, but on both sides, India and Pakistan, militant groups are very active. of PA (Fides Service 10/6/2003 EM lines 31 Words: 362)