Chennai (India) - “The Catholic community is united in prayer and faith and sympathy. The faithful were shocked by the murder of layman Jacob Fernandez but reaction has not been violent, only a call to the authorities to see justice is done, and prayers to God”: Archbishop Malayappan Chinnappa SDB of Madras-Mylapore, a Salesian, told Fides following the assassination of a Catholic layman on 26 November at the Shrine of St Thomas Mount at Chennai, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The assailant, identified as 37 year old Ramesh Babu, attacked and threatened Mr Fernandez for no reason in front of a crowd of terrified eyewitnesses present in the bookshop, killing him with a machete. Reportedly the assailant, in a state of violent excitement, demanded to see the parish priest and loudly claimed the Shrine area as Hindu property. After killing his victim the assassin damaged a statue of St Francis of Assisi and a painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The police said the suspect arrested was “mentally instable”, but local Catholics know the man as a fanatical extremist in contact with anti-social groups. He is also the author of a web site which promotes “real religion”, and sows hatred towards religious minorities.
Following the tragic episode Catholics in Tamil Nadu, led by Archbishop Malayappan Chinnappa SDB and Bishop Anthony Neethinathan of Chinglepet, organised a peaceful protest prayer march to the Shrine for a special Mass expressing sympathy to the family of Mr Fernandez who leaves a wife and three children. Local Catholics who knew him said “Jacob was a devout lay Catholic who went to daily Mass at the Shrine and lived his life as a mission”.
The Shrine of Mount St Thomas is believed to be the place where St Thomas the apostle, the first evangeliser of India, died in the first century. Pope John Paul II visited the Shrine during his apostolic visit to India in 1986. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 19/12/2006)