ucanews.com reporter, Kathmandu
Updated: April 18, 2017 10:59 AM GMT
Part of the Assumption Cathedral building in Kathmandu that was burnt April 18. (Photo supplied)
Arsonists attempted to set on fire Assumption Cathedral in Kathmandu, the first public Catholic worship place in Hindu-majority Nepal.
Father Ignatius Rai, pastor of the cathedral parish said the incident occurred around 3 a.m. on April 18 when "unknown persons" broke into the church premises.
They started a fire that partially damaged the priest’s residence and the western part of the church. A car and two motorbikes were also completely burnt. No casualties were reported.
"This is shocking. The local Christian community is now living under threat," Father Rai told ucanews.com.
The incident took place two days after the Christian community in Nepal and other parts of the country celebrated Easter on April 16. Police are currently investigating the case.
This is a second time the church has been targeted. A bomb exploded there in 2009, claiming three lives including a school girl and injuring 15 more.
In 2010, Ram Prasad Mainali, chief of the Nepal Defense Army, a little known Hindu extremist group, was arrested in connection with the incident.
"We are panicking. Nobody left anything in the church premise this time so we don’t know whether it was a personal attack or by some disgruntled organization," said Father Silas Bogati, former parish priest of the Assumption Cathedral parish.
Condemning the attack, the parish released a statement seeking fair investigation into the attack.
"The Catholic Church has been involved in social work for half a decade now and will continue with our work despite the frequent attacks," the release written in Nepali said, adding that no-one should allow the attack to disrupt religious harmony in the country.
Nepal will hold the first local elections in two decades on May 14. The upcoming elections have been seen as a significant step toward the implementation of a new constitution passed by the Nepal government in 2015.
The constitution for the first time mandates a restructured, federal and secular republic.
However, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the fourth-largest force in parliament has decided to campaign for the reinstatement of a Hindu state in the upcoming polls.
"We are eagerly looking forward to the upcoming local elections in the country and we are in the process with the government. This incident, if politically motivated will not [harm] the peaceful environment in the country," said Father Bogati.
Assumption Cathedral, which can seat 1,000 people, incorporates Buddhist and Hindu elements in a pagoda-gothic style. Nepal's first public Catholic church was built after a new constitution promulgated in 1991 gave Nepal's people the freedom to practice any religion in public provided there is no attempt to convert others. Prior to that, Catholic services were held in the Hindu kingdom only in chapels of Catholic schools, convents and social centers.
Catholics make up a tiny portion of Nepal's Christian population, with the majority being Protestants. The Nepal Catholic Directory counts about 8,000 Catholics in Nepal, mostly in the eastern region where parishes were set up in 1999. Nepal has a population of some 28 million people, 80 percent of whom are Hindus.