New Delhi (Fides Service) - “The Bishops strongly condemn this attack on Catholic Sisters, in Kerala yesterday” the spokesman of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in India, Fr Babu Joseph Karakombil told Fides. “With deep concern they see groups of Hindu fundamentalists in search of political space engage in a new outbreak of violence. However, the Conference has received many messages of sympathy and solidarity from civil institutions and organisations and representatives of other religions, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists” Father Karakombil said. He was referring to two successive attacks on Missionaries of Charity, the Sisters of Mother Teresa, in Kerala, southern India on September 26.
The attacks happened in Pantheerankave, north of Cochin where the Sisters were attending to a community of no caste Dalits. The first attack came about midday when the Sisters were on their way to visit the community as usual carrying food. The people are extremely poor and had asked the nuns for help to feed their children. Suddenly the car in which the Sisters were travelling was attacked by a group of about five men shouting pro Hindu nationalist slogans. The men opened the doors of the car and used chains and iron bars to beat the occupants, Sister Sirolina and Sister Rose Merlyn and the driver were injured.
On hearing that some of their Sisters had been hurt, other Missionaries went to the scene in a minibus. This time the bus was attacked by at least 30 men who wounded two of the Sisters, Sister Shalot and Mother Kusuma the Superior who suffered head injury and three male members of the Congregation Brother Varghese, Brother Bernard from Kenya and another Brother. The fanatics tried unsuccessfully to pull the other Religious out of the vehicle. The injured were taken for treatment to a private hospital nearby, one was in serious conditions.
The local police was soon on the scene and nine of the assailants were arrested. The Hindu nationalist party Baratiya Janata Party BJP has denied responsibility for the incident. But as they were being attacked the missionaries clearly heard cries of “Long live BJP”.
Representatives of Christian associations and movements in Kerala met immediately and drafted a joint statement to condemn the episode and voice concern and sympathy with the Missionaries of Charity known and loved for their service of the people. Kerala is the state where there are most Christians in India, it is the cradle of the Syro-Malabar rite.
“This is obviously an attempt to destroy social harmony in Kerala”, Father Babu Joseph told Fides. “In effect these recent attacks come as a total surprise because Kerala is known for its atmosphere of good relations among the different religious and civil groups. The recent murder of Father Job Chittilappilly also in Kerala, on 28 August, and yesterday’s attack on Mother Teresa’ Sisters are concerning signals. We know there exist certain groups which fan fundamentalism to obtain more political visibility. It is clear that there are political interests behind these attacks”.
Father Babu Joseph explains the position of the Catholic Church in India : “The local Church does not rise to provocation. It rejects religious fundamentalism and calls on all groups to desist from such underhand activities which undermine the good of the people and the nation and has lodged a formal complaint with the National Minorities Commission. Moreover the Catholic Church has received many messages of sympathy and solidarity from state institutions, civil groups and many religious bodies. Everyone is aware of and appreciates the service which the Church, including Missionaries of Charity, provide to the poorest of the poor”.
In India anti-Christian sentiment increased during the years in which the country was ruled by the BJP. Hindu extremist groups say Christians use social assistance as a cover up for proselytism. India’s Christians form 2% of a population of one billion 80% professed Hindu. India’s Catholics are 17 million belonging to three different rites. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 27/9/2004 lines 45 words 456)