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Cardinal defuses religious row in southern Indian state

Tensions rise after Kerala bishop's comments about love jihad and narcotic jihad by Muslims

Cardinal defuses religious row in southern Indian state

Cardinal George Alencherry says 'love and brotherhood are the basic values of Christian churches.' (Photo: AFP)

Cardinal George Alencherry has stepped in to contain the escalating tension between Christians and Muslims in Kerala state in southern India by urging them to maintain peace, harmony and tolerance.

“We need to strongly hold brotherhood between followers of different religions” and shed light on the controversial discussions and debates going on that threatened to disturb religious tolerance and brotherhood, Cardinal Alencherry, head of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church, said in a statement.

His statement came in response to escalating tension between minority Christians and Muslims in Kerala after a Catholic bishop accused the Muslim community of promoting “narcotic and love jihads” in the state.

On Sept. 8 during the nativity celebration of Mother Mary, Bishop Joseph Kallarangattu of Pala said in his homily that Kerala had become a recruiting center for Islamic terrorists.

The prelate also quoted a recent statement from former state police chief Loknath Behera in his support.

Muslim terrorists, he said, want to “promote their religion” and to see “the end of non-Muslims” for which they used “loved jihad” and “narcotic jihad.”

Christians rallied behind the prelate and tried to justify what he said through church-supported social media platforms and other forums

“They have realized that in a nation like India, taking up weapons and destroying others isn't easy, and thus they are using other means,” he said, urging Catholics to be aware of such elements that might destroy their lives and their families.

The bishop also asked Catholic families to protect their girls from love jihad, a term referring to young Muslim men feigning love to marry and convert non-Muslim women.

Narcotic jihad, he said, reportedly targets non-Muslim youths by aiming to destroy their lives with drugs.

Though Bishop Kallarangattu made the controversial statements in his homily in a church strictly for his faithful, a video of it went viral and led to widespread protests by the Muslim community.

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Some Christians rallied behind the prelate and tried to justify what he said through church-supported social media platforms and other forums.

As both sides continued to argue, Cardinal Alencherry stepped in with an appeal for peace.

In a statement issued on Sept. 19, he reminded everyone of the tradition of Kerala where “all the religious communities live in peace and harmony.”

Cautioning everyone against making any public utterance that is likely to disturb peace and harmony, he said that “all such issues should be settled through discussions with mutual respect and that will enhance brotherhood and harmony.”

Cardinal Alencherry also said statements by people who sit in positions of power could lead to confusion and division when they are quoted out of context.

“Love and brotherhood are the basic values of Christian churches,” he said.

He urged everyone in the Church not to deviate from its basic value system and vision.

The cardinal also appealed to everyone to put an end to the controversies and move forward in mutual love and respect, calling on people to cooperate with religious, political and social leaders in their efforts to bring peace.

Unlike other states in India, Kerala has a unique combination of religious communities. Of its 33 million population, Hindus are the largest religious group at 54.73 percent, followed by Muslims at 26.56 percent, Christians at 18.38 percent, and others at 0.33 percent.

Many in the Church and outside have demanded a public apology from Bishop Kallarangattu.

Several Ezhava community members were converted to Christianity in the past decades

Meanwhile, Father Roy Kannanchira raked up another controversy by accusing Ezhava boys, a low-caste Hindu community in Kerala, of luring Christian girls into marriage.

However, the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate priest took to social media and apologized with folded hands for his remarks.

The priest said he bore no hatred or vengeance against anyone but was trying to highlight the fact that many Christian girls who married outside their religion faced familial discord.

He had not intended to show the Ezhava community in a poor light but to drive home the message that marriage was a holy sacrament and that children should pay heed to their parents while selecting their life partners, he said.

Vellappally Natesan, general secretary of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, the association of the Ezhava community, said it was not the Ezhava community who were converting Christians but the other way round.

“Several Ezhava community members were converted to Christianity in the past decades. Hundreds of Ezhava and scheduled caste/scheduled tribe members had been converted to Christianity in the hill areas of the state over the years,” he said.

Natesan also challenged Christians to disprove his claim.

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