Masked vandals attacked and desecrated a Catholic church in the Indian state of Kerala on September 4, according to a local bishop who has encouraged the faithful not to retaliate.
"We will act according to the law,” Bishop Stanley Roman of Quilon told Fides news agency. “We have reported the incident to the police, we are confident in the work of the police and hope that they can identify the culprits and bring them to justice as soon as possible.”
In the meantime, Bishop Roman has urged parishioners of South Kerala's Church of Our Lady of Vailankanni “not to react, to endure violence and persecution with patience.”
Around 20 men broke into the church on Sunday evening and destroyed its altar, vestments, and confessionals. Local Catholics arrived but did not manage to stop the attackers, who forced the Catholics from the church and escaped.
The Bishop of Quilon, who visited the church after its desecration, said Christians in Kerala are “exposed to the growth of different religious extremism,” from both Hindu and Muslim groups.
“In the area there is a very lively and large Catholic community,” Bishop Roman said. “This is why we plan to build a larger church. Perhaps this project has alarmed the Hindu extremist groups that already, indirectly, seek to intimidate us.”
“We have had, in recent years, a growth of these Hindu extremist groups in Kerala and we begin to suffer the consequences. But it is also true that, consequently, small Islamic groups are proliferating. And all this could endanger (the) social peace and religious identity that has always characterized Kerala.”
Kerala is demographically unique among Indian states, with Christians – who represent less than 2.5 percent of India's overall population – making up more than 20 percent of its local population. Muslims account for another quarter of the people, while the remaining majority are Hindus.
Bishop Roman says the churches in Kerala “will continue our pastoral work, (spreading) the message of Christ through the joyful witness of the Gospel and serving others.”
India's small Catholic minority already plays a disproportionately large role in providing education, health care, and welfare services to the country of 1.18 billion people. This work has provoked animosity from some Hindu extremists who oppose Christian missionary efforts.
Mumbai's Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who visited Pope Benedict XVI with a delegation of Indian bishops on September 2, told Vatican Radio that he “would not be honest if I did not say that there is violence in parts of the country even today,” though he said the situation had improved in recent times.