A chapel to St. Anthony in India which was severely damaged in several 2008 attacks by religious extremists is now under reconstruction with the assistance of an international charity.
The chapel, on the island of Rameswaram in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, was attacked several times between June and August 2008. The attacks took place at about the same time as anti-Christian violence in Orissa state left more than 80 dead and drove 30,000 from their homes.
The charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has promised about $29,000 towards the cost of a new shrine.
Parish priest Fr. Michael Raj told ACN that the chapel was “heavily damaged twice” by “unidentified anti-social and religious elements” and “fanatic religious groups.”
“This is repeatedly happening here and there are intruders who break the holy cross… They plan to remove the Christian symbols from this site,” he added.
The new chapel will have a protective wall around the compound. The local church also intends to erect a house for visiting pilgrims and to extend the hall at the shrine.
Despite the attacks, Fr. Raj said, “our faith is stronger and we are sure that the God in whom we believe, amidst all these struggles, will save our faith and our place of worship – which is the shrine of St. Anthony.”
The number of pilgrims to the church is “constantly increasing,” he reported.
Though religious groups are suspected in the attacks, the priest said that most members of other faiths on the island support the campaign to save the chapel.
A “reasonable number” of Hindus and Muslims come to the site as pilgrims and visitors, he told ACN.
A shrine to St. Anthony has been on the island of Rameswaram since missionaries first arrived in the 19th century. The original chapel was destroyed by a cyclone in 1964 and a replacement was severely damaged by 2004’s tsunami.
St. Anthony is patron of mariners and fishermen, and so the shrine attracts many visitors on an island where families depend on the sea for their livelihood.
The costs of the shrine project total over $61,000. Local people have already raised more than $16,000 towards the total, despite being from the poorer social classes.
“Though our people are at the bottom of the society in all the spheres they are known for Faith and Commitment towards, and for, the Holy Mother Church,” Fr. Raj told ACN. “I thank God for all that he is doing for me in serving him and practising our faith in this land where we are having a time of persecution and a test in saving our faith and places of worship.”