At a recent plenary meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), bishops held two unscheduled meetings to study recent attacks on Christians. The bishops also discussed proposals to coordinate the Church’s civil and political activities to counter increasing anti-Christian violence in India.
Last December, Hindu extremists attacked Christians in the east-coast state of Orissa, disrupting preparations for Christmas and burning their property.
Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi and outgoing president of the CBCI, said that attackers had looted and burned Christian churches and homes. “What they could not carry, they heaped them together and burned," he said, describing the destruction as “diabolic.”
Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, whose Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar includes the afflicted district, said the conflict began on December 23, when Hindu radicals forcibly shaved the head of a Protestant pastor. The next day, the radicals disrupted Christmas preparations in a Christian-dominated village. They pursued Christians and burned their shops.
Archbishop Cheenath urged India’s bishops not to treat the violence as isolated incidents, but instead to plan to deal with anti-Christian violence and propaganda at national and regional levels. "Be alert. Today it is Orissa; tomorrow it could be somewhere else," the archbishop said, according to UCA News.
The archbishop distributed an independent group’s report, written after twenty months studying Hindu radicals in Orissa. The Indian People’s Tribunal, established in 2003 after sectarian violence killed hundreds of Muslims, said thousands of radicals were working in Orissa, using "coercion and force to promote Hindu supremacy and hegemony."
The tribunal head K.K. Usha, a former judge, has said that the radical groups "legitimize their actions against minorities by invoking specific and fabricated threats to Hindus from Muslims and Christians."
A diocese or religious congregation cannot counter a fundamentalist attack alone, Archbishop Cheenath said. He said there were “too many dioceses” in the Indian Church, complicated by regional, linguistic, and ritual divisions. He proposed the formation of a disaster management team at the national level.
A CBCI draft plan calls for the Church to formulate positions and disseminate them through statements and the media. Other proposals include lobbying political and civil leaders, establishing national and regional coordination teams, and networking with other groups, including international organizations.
Among those included in the discussion of the tentative plan were Cardinal Paul Cordes, the Vatican official in charge of the pontifical council for charity work, and two officials of the German Church aid agency Misereor.