Bhubaneswar (India) - The grotto dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, in the complex of the homonymous church in the town of Aligonda, of the diocese of Berhampur (Indian state of Orissa), was destroyed by unidentified vandals. The act of vandalism, which occurred yesterday, March 4, has caused bewilderment among the local community. Fr. Ayit Kumar Nayak, parish priest of the local community, told Agenzia Fides: "I pray for the little flock in the parish of Aligonda. The head of the statue of Mother Mary has been destroyed. We are upset and saddened. We are praying for the people who carried out this gesture consciously and unconsciously. We forgive them. God bless them. This is my request: let us respect each other and respect each other's faith".
The violent gesture, informs the priest, was carried out in the afternoon, while the faithful were attending Mass in the parish church, while Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak, at the head of the diocese of Berhampur, was on a pastoral visit to the parish. People were shocked by the gesture that only aimed at affecting the religious feelings of the Catholic community. The parish priest went to the police to report the violence, while the Bishop urged "to avoid any reaction". The faithful, informed Fr. Ajit Kumar Nayak, have forgiven those who profaned and destroyed the grotto.
The parish of the Immaculate Conception of Aligonda was founded by the Spanish Vincentian priests in 1958 and is one of the main parishes of the diocese of Berhampur. There are more than 570 thousand inhabitants in the district of Gajapati, where the church is located, of whom 61% Hindu, 37% Christians. The state of Orissa has faced much violence against Christians in recent decades. One of the most brutal incidents was in 2008 in the Kandhamal district, adjacent to the Gajapati district.
Observers noted the high number of incidents of violence against the Christian community in the country in 2017. According to a report sent to Fides by the Christian organization "Evangelical Fellowship of India" (Efi), 2017 was one of the most traumatic years for Christians in India, reporting at least 351 cases of violence during the year. According to Efi, these numbers are only referred to the cases reported. (SD-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 5/3/2018)