Indian Cardinal Seeks Justice After Hindu Attacks

Churches, Convents and Seminaries Damaged Over Christmas

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By Marta Lago

NEW DEHLI, JAN. 9, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The president of the Indian episcopal conference met with the nation's prime minister, seeking justice for Christians who suffered a wave of violence around Christmas.

Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, visited the state of Orissa, where nationalist Hindu extremists wreaked havoc Dec. 24-27. After his trip last week, the cardinal visited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday.

The Indian Catholic News Service estimated the extent of damage to include 53 churches, five convents, four priests' residences, seven youth hostels, two minor seminaries, and more than 500 homes and 126 businesses.

"I was moved when I heard [the victims'] narrating the sordid stories," Cardinal Toppo told CBCI News. "The words of St. Paul who asked the early Christians to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice flashed through my mind.

"I could see the faith of those victims -- priests, religious sisters and Christian faithful strengthened. Undoubtedly, the Church has been strengthened by the harrowing experience. I have no doubt that the Church will grow. No power on earth can stop that growth. When the Church had to suffer, it has come out alive and vibrant."

But the cardinal appealed for justice in a letter he hand-delivered to the prime minister. The recent "prolonged and widespread" attacks against Christians of Kandhamal "are truly tragic," he wrote. "A chain of unprovoked and unjustified violence unleashed on a minority Christian community of Tribals and Dalits was undoubtedly preplanned."

Among the consequences, he cited the destruction of "the peace and harmony of poor villagers," the marred sacredness of Christmas celebrations, and churches reduced to ashes, "something which has deeply hurt the religious sentiments of Christians."

The cardinal further denounced the selective destruction of stores belonging to Christians.

Direct affront

Cardinal Toppo said that "local administration had proved to be quite ineffective and incapable of preventing and controlling the violent situation."

It became a question of "political and official condoning, if not directly supporting, the activities of village groups spreading the ideology of hatred and violence," the cardinal said. He added that it was "a direct affront" to democracy and civil society.

The cardinal asked the prime minister for an effective intervention "in order to restore peace and order in the affected areas and, above all, the confidence of the Christian community, which is still living in great panic."

Cardinal Toppo further called for a process of rebuilding places and compensating victims, as well as identifying the guilty and bringing them to justice. He asked that groups causing tension be investigated and appropriate action be taken, in order to prevent such deeds in the future.

The 68-year-old cardinal insisted on the duty of protecting religious freedom as mandated by the Indian Constitution.

The prime minister "promised to do everything possible to provide relief and security to the victims," reported the cardinal after his meeting with Singh.