More than 3,000 people attended a two-hour purification ceremony and peace Mass at St. Peter Canisius Church in West Bengal, Darjeeling district, less than one week after vandals desecrated the building. The June 7 Mass was led by Bishop Thomas D'Souza of the local Diocese of Bagdogra.
It was the last part of a three-day penitential program in the diocese, conducted in 16 parishes, which sought "peace and pardon" and helped ease tensions in the district brought on by the incident.
Vandals ransacked St. Peter Canisius Church on June 1 and escaped with a gold-plated monstrance. They reportedly threw away the Blessed Sacrament.
The church, named after a 16th-century Jesuit saint, is located in the tea garden town Gayaganga, about 1,400 kilometers east of New Delhi. It was built in 1931, making it the oldest in the plains of mountainous Darjeeling. The Jesuit-run parish serves 7,000 Catholics, mostly local tea garden workers.
On June 4, the bishop asked the people to conduct penitential prayers for the miscreants in every house and parish. The purification ceremony included the placing of the Blessed Sacrament back in the tabernacle.
The way the Eucharist, "which is Jesus himself, was thrown away and insulted is a reminder of what the Lord went through, and what he is going through even today," Bishop D'Souza told UCA News.
One of the locals, Raymond Tirkey, told UCA News the 50,000 Catholics in the diocese were furious with municipal officials because the vandalism happened shortly after the murder in April of the watchman of the parish school.
The bishop's strategy "to pray for the aggressors, emulating Jesus," successfully cooled people's emotions, Tirkey said. "We agreed the best way is to pray for God's grace upon them."
Church law mandates such purification. Canon 1211 in the Latin-rite Code of Canon Law deals with scandalous violations of sacred places and the suspension of worship "until the damage is repaired by a penitential rite according to the norm of the liturgical books."
Bishop D'Souza told UCA News that the rite invoked God's grace on the vandals that they "shun the temptations to desecrate a house of God, whether church, temple, or mosque."
This was the first “sacrilegious mishap” at the church since it was built 76 years ago, despite occasional crimes against the Church and some Catholics, the bishop pointed out.