Indian bishops condemn Hindu group’s attack on Catholic school and priest

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Catholic bishops have condemned a recent attack by a radical Hindu group on a Catholic school in southern India.

On April 16 a mob of activists assaulted a priest and vandalized the Mother Teresa English Medium School in Telangana state after school administrators reprimanded students for wearing Hindu religious clothing instead of the school uniform.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) released a statement on April 16 following the violent attack.

“The assault, carried out by a mob of antisocial elements, is a reprehensible act of violence against an educational institution and its staff,” the CBCI said.

Father Jaison Joseph, who serves as principal of the school, which is run by the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, described the attack to CNA on April 20.

“When I saw some students wearing saffron clothes instead of the school uniform, I told them to change or ask the parents to come and inform us,” Joseph said.

“After some time, people wearing saffron clothes started coming in. In an hour, the mob had swelled from 50 to over 500, and they surrounded and started beating me. They put a saffron shawl on my neck and applied tilak [saffron vermillion] on my forehead,” the priest recounted.

News outlets carried the shocking visual of the priest being forced to chant “Jai Sri Ram” (“Hail Lord Ram”) while the mob vandalized the school building and attacked teachers and staff.

Prior to that, the mob shouted “Jai Shri Ram” and threw stones at the statue of St. Teresa of Calcutta installed at the school’s main gate. The attackers damaged the security office of the school, where more than 1,000 students are enrolled  — 80% Hindu, 10% Christian, and 10% Muslim.

“All [political] parties were involved. It was a religiously motivated attack,” said Bishop Prince Antony Panengaden of the Adilabad Diocese of the Syro-Malabar Church.

“We requested the authorities to ensure the safety of the fathers and [take] actions against the perpetrators,” Panengaden said.

Shortly after the attack, police sparked outrage among Christians after filing a criminal case against the Catholic school and the school’s management, accusing them of “offending religious sentiments and promoting enmity between different groups on grounds.”

However, following widespread protests from several Christian groups and viral media coverage of the incident, police on April 18 announced the arrest of nine people in connection with the attack.

Leading the protest was the Telangana State Federation of Churches, which deplored the attack as “despicable” before police announced arrests of the alleged attackers.

The ecumenical Christian forum said it “condemns with great sorrow and deep concern” the “atrocious attack.” 

“We request the Christian community to be united and pray for peace and unity at this hour of distress to the peace-loving community,” said Father Alex Raju, secretary of the forum, in the statement.

The CBCI also urged “all communities to resist the propagation of misinformation and divisive rhetoric. We are all integral parts of this great nation, and our unity in diversity is a cornerstone of our identity.”

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“We implore our fellow citizens, irrespective of faith, to stand together against any attempts to exploit our diversity for narrow, selfish agendas. Let us reaffirm our commitment to peace, mutual respect, and the collective prosperity of our beloved country,” the CBCI statement urged through its spokesperson, Father Robinson Rodrigues.

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