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Cross bulldozed in communist-led Kerala

Catholics say they are 'pained' at the destruction

Cross bulldozed in communist-led Kerala

An Indian Christian holds a cross as she takes part a prayer service in southern India, in this file photo. Christians in Kerala state are protesting the government's removal of a cross atop a public hill. (Photo by Arun Sankar/AFP)

T. K. Devasia, Kochi
India

April 21, 2017

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Christian groups in the southern Indian state of Kerala are protesting authorities removing a cross atop a hill as the local communist-led government reclaims land from encroachers.

A team of officials employed jackhammers and bulldozers April 20 to remove the concrete base of the 8-meter iron cross that a neo-Christian group "Spirit of Jesus" erected in the Pappathshola hills area — illegally, according to officials. The group runs a prayer and retreat center in the tea-garden tourist area of Idukki district. No official from the group was available for comments at the time of writing.

"The demolition of the cross has pained the entire Christian community," said a statement from Varghese Vallikkat, deputy secretary general of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, a joint body of Catholic bishops.

The government launched the eviction after investigations proved there had been extensive land grabbing in the area. Local language media has been reporting how politicians and the rich colluded to grab public land and build resorts and private houses in the fast-developing tourist area.

The area is part of Idukki Diocese, whose officials have already conveyed their protests to the state chief minister, according to Father Jose Karivelickal, the diocesan spokesperson.

"Christians hold the cross with lot of reverence. The officials should have shown respect to their feelings when they pulled down a powerful symbol worshipped by Christians all over the world," Father Karivelickal told ucanews.com.

The priest said authorities had not discussed their decision to demolish the cross with church officials. "This is wrong. The government should have dealt with the issue more carefully," he said.

Local Christians said followers of the Spirit of Jesus group and other locals thronged the area when revenue officials arrived to demolish the cross.

At the risk of being arrested, they tried to prevent the removal. Some tried to block the government team by leaving their vehicles on the road. However, the administration used excavators to clear the road blocks and police removed the protesters.

Kerala state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, while addressing a public meeting following the event, said the authorities should have been more careful.

However, he criticized media reports that said the cross removal was an attempt to portray the communist leaders of the state government as being against the cross. 

Christians, who constitute nearly 18 percent of the state's 32 million population, have long feared that the communist distrust of religion would pose a threat to their faith.

However, the communists have never tried to impose their ideology on Christians ever since they came to power in the state for the first time in 1957. 

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