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Controversial Kerala church marks 25 years

Hindus still argue Syrian Christian site is too close to popular temple

Controversial Kerala church marks 25 years
Oscar Fernandes, a former federal minister, opens the jubilee celebrations reporter, Kochi

February 1, 2011

Political and religious leaders have celebrated the silver jubilee of a church built by Kerala Syrian Christians during tensions near a Hindu pilgrimage center.

The southern Indian state witnessed unprecedented Christian-Hindu tension in 1983 when several Christians unearthed a stone cross at Nilakkal which they claimed was the remains of a church Saint Thomas the Apostle founded.

Christians, who trace their faith to the saint, insisted building a church on the spot, but Hindus objected saying it was in the grounds of Sabarimala, Kerala’s most popular temple dedicated to Ayyappa, the bachelor god.

After much negotiation, the government allotted Christians a plot of forest land to build the church four kilometers from the temple.

Oscar Fernandes, a former federal minister who started jubilee celebrations on Jan. 30, said the Nilakkal church not only helped strengthen the ecumenical movement in Kerala but cemented harmony among all religions.

The Catholic politician urged Christians to fight sectarian and divisive forces.

Retired Archbishop Joseph Powathil of Changanacherry, a former leader of the Nilakkal ecumenical movement, lamented divisions continue to grow in the name of religion and caste.

“We have to guard against such things,” he said.

Hindu religious leader Swamy Lokananda and Muslim leader V. H. Aliyar Maulavi shared the dais with the leaders of various Christian Churches.

However, some Hindus still say Christians erred in building the church near the temple.

Kummanam Rajashekaran called the Nilakkal church a “symbol of government-sponsored communalism” in India.

“The issue is relevant even today. The government sacrificed Hindus’ interests to get Christian votes,” he told yesterday.

P. Parameshwaran, a Hindu ideologue, says the Nilakkal church is “a farce for political gain” since there is no historical proof of Saint Thomas visiting Kerala.

Related report
Hindu high priest suspended for visiting church in southern Kerala

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