India bishop, fearing extremist violence, cancels Christmas festivities
Faithful leaving Mass at the Lucknow Cathedral
Faithful leaving Mass at the Lucknow Cathedral

.- Citing concerns about Hindu extremists, Bishop Gerald Mathias of Lucknow, India has canceled many of the Christmas festivities in his north Indian diocese.

One of the canceled festivities is the annual Christmas ‘Dance Drama,’ whose celebration on the steps of the cathedral of Lucknow City is typically attended by more than 50,000 people, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reports.

The dance’s performers include seminarians and novice religious sisters and brothers. Drawing heavily on local culture, the dance drama reenacts Scriptural texts from throughout the Bible with a concentration upon the Nativity.

The two open-air performances of the dance attract a mostly non-Christian audience to St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Lucknow, a majority Hindu city with a 20 percent Muslim population. The event is a key means of outreach in the city of three million, of whom only 4,000 are Catholics.

In further changes to Christmas plans, Bishop Mathias decided not invite the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh state, the Governor of Lucknow, the chief justice and other dignitaries to an event of carols, brief speeches, and a meal.

The bishop has also called off a Christmas Day gathering for around 15 priests from Lucknow and another celebration involving clergy and religious from throughout the diocese that was planned for December 30.

Father Ignatius D’Souza, the Diocese of Lucknow’s vicar general, acknowledged that people would be disappointed by the cancelations. However, he reported that an ordinary exhibition of the Christmas story will continue in the cathedral compound and said people were welcome to enter and light a candle according to the local custom.

Father D’Souza explained the decision to cancel the events, saying:

“We are concerned about fundamentalist activity. The extremists’ strategy is very long term and they might see our diocesan Christmas activities as an opportunity to take action.”

“Although we have very good security arrangements for the events and have an excellent relationship with the local police department here, we can’t be too careful. You don’t know the mind of those wanting to stir up trouble.

“Every time there are general elections, there are people wanting to inflame tensions.” General elections are planned to occur before May 2009.

According to ACN, the priest also stressed that the cancellations were made as an act of solidarity with Christians in Orissa who would be marking the first anniversary of atrocities in Khandamal, where churches were ransacked and many people were forced from their homes.

Up to 500 people have died in recurring anti-Christian attacks in the Indian state of Orissa. Violence also unexpectedly broke out in Karnataka state in southwest India, with Hindu extremists destroying many churches.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India recently urged dioceses to scale down Christmas festivities.

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