Vatican City (Fides Service) - “People are too afraid even to leave the house. Civilians have had enough of war and terrorism, of this situation of tension and fear with army and police all over the place. Kashmir deserves a little peace!” Bishop Peter Celestine Elampassery, of the vast diocese of Jammu-Srinagar which cares for the whole of the state of Kashmir, said this to Fides Service after a September 4th massacre of 18 civilians and wounding of 16 including four children, the latest in a long series of episodes of violence in this disputed border territory situated between India and Pakistan.
In Rome with fellow Bishops for their five yearly ad limina visit, Bishop Elampassery told Fides Service more about the situation: “It is impossible to carry on normal living when the nightmare of terrorism keep appearing again and again. People live in fear. Fundamentalism leads to religious and political militancy and for some, terrorist attacks. Terrorist groups seem to be in connected and supported by the international network of terrorism and, some say, backed also by the Pakistan government. A recent agreement reached between the two neighbour countries has had no effect on the field. In Kashmir nothing has changed; the situation is fast deteriorating: economy in ruins, tourism, main source of income, non existent. Civilians cannot take any more of this state of war, under these conditions they can barely exist.”
Bishop Elampassery explained that the Catholic community is small, 12,000 in a population of 9 million. “Nevertheless, despite ups and downs and considerable political and social problems, the Church continues its service in pastoral ministry, social work, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and above all education.” In fact Kashmir’s population is mainly Muslim with Hindu and Buddhist communities and the Bishop says “religious communities tend to keep to themselves and there is little contact of relation between them. Whereas our schools, open to all children, whether Christians Muslim and Hindu or other, are very popular and appreciated. I have regular meetings with Muslim leaders and the ordinary people get on well with each other. They all live in poverty, everyone want peace, and this is something which unites”.
The diocese of Jammu and Kashmir was established in 1952 and took the name of Jammu-Srinagar in 1986. It is the second largest in area, 222,236 sq. km., in India. “we have 41 priests, 160 sisters and about 20 catechists helping with pastoral work – the Bishop says -. “Most of the Catholics are low caste. We run dispensaries, centres for assistance and solidarity in social service, but our main service is education. By building schools in villages we help children and slowly build good relations with the people. Our method of evangelising is in fact to promote respect for the dignity of every person, like Mother Teresa. Of course we have to buy the land, build a school and pay the teachers…but we have great hope for evangelisation.
Bishop Elampassery said his visit to Pope John Paul II was very encouraging: “The Holy Father always gives us new courage and support for our mission. The ad limina visit is also a wonderful opportunity for communion and sharing among the bishops themselves and this is good for relations within the Church in India”. PA (Fides Service 5/9/2003 EM lines 43 Words: 566)