New Delhi, India, Feb 3, 2015 / 02:01 am
Unidentified persons broke into St. Alphonsa parish in the Indian capital New Delhi during the early hours of Monday morning, scattering reserved Hosts and desecrating the sanctuary.
The incident was the fifth of its kind in the Delhi area since Dec. 2.
"Some miscreants in the morning hours broke the main door of the church, entered the sacristy, ransacked it and opened the tabernacle and desecrated the holy Hosts and took away the monstrance, ciborium, and a chalice," Fr. Savarimuthu Sankar, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Delhi, told CNA Feb. 2.
St. Alphonsa's is located in the Vasant Kunj neighborhood of New Delhi, and is named for a Franciscan nun who died in 1946 and is the first Indian woman to be canonized, and well as the first member of the Syro-Malabar Church to be canonized.
Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi issued a statement expressing his profound anguish, saying: "Another act of vandalism and targeted attack on our churches in Delhi is nothing but a reflection of hate campaign and false propaganda by groups whose sole aim is to break the religious harmony and social peace of this great nation."
Over the past two months five Catholic churches in the capital have come under attacks of vandalism. The local Catholic community believes that sluggish investigation by law enforcement has also boosted the morale of the perpetrators to meticulously attack the places of worship.
The prelate slammed the government's turning a blind eye to these attacks on the minority community, and the lack of security at the places of worship.
"The attack within a week after celebration of Republic Day reflects a lot on the government and its failure to give protection to minorities and their religious structures," Bishop Couto said. "The central government must act swiftly and ensure that proper law and order is maintained in the national capital and religious harmony and social peace are upheld."
The prelate also explained that the Christian community is known for "peace and non-violence."
"As a minuscule minority we focus on serving the poor and the nation at large. But the growing number of attacks on churches and personnel in different parts of the country is aimed at creating a fear psychosis and tension among different communities," said Bishop Couto.
Across India, Christians account for an estimated 2.3 percent of the population, which has a 81 percent Hindu majority. In the Archdiocese of Delhi, 0.4 percent of the population is Catholic.
The local police have insisted the act was a robbery, and not vandalism.
However, the faithful allege that it is an orchestrated move to bring communal disharmony and disturb peace in the political sphere.
Fr. Sankar speculated that "if the motive was theft, why they did not break open the collection boxes? They have only targeted the sacred items."
Police and forensic teams have visited St. Alphonsa's, taking fingerprints and beginning enquiry and investigation in the case.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, India's analogue to the US Department of Homeland Security or Department of Justice, has intervened with the Delhi Police Commissioner, requesting a detailed report of police action in the issue, and on security at churches.
Archbishop Couto concluded that the attacks on churches in Delhi certainly would cause "irreparable damage to the country's reputation in the world, as India is known for religious tolerance and unity in diversity."
During these few months the attacks on Catholic churches have increased, but the faithful are being asked to keep calm and to pray.
The first attack in the past two months was an arson at St. Sebastian church, Dilshad Garden, on Dec. 2. Then stones were thrown at Our Lady of Fatima, a Syro-Malabar parish in Jasola, during Mass on Dec. 7. A crib was found charred on the premises of the Church of the Resurrection in Rohini Jan. 4, and a Marian statue was destroyed at the grotto of Our Lady of Graces in Vikaspuri on Jan. 14.
Two men have been arrested in the connection with alleged vandalism.
The frequent attacks in recent weeks have raised alarms about poor security at churches, and has hurt the religious sentiment of people of all religions in the area.
However, New Delhi is preparing for Assembly elections, which will be held this weekend. The favored candidates are Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi party and Kiran Bedi of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist party.
Since BJP won national elections in March, a wave of religious discrimination has ensued, including forced "conversions" of Muslims to Hinduism.