As tensions have continued to build between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, Catholics have prayed for peace while the political discourse has turned increasingly sour. "Our beloved country is going through extraordinary challenges, especially on its borders," said Cardinal Baselois Cleemis, president of the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference in a statement issued to all 168 diocese as he set aside Oct. 16 as a day of prayer for the nation. Border tensions began more than a month ago and India and Pakistan have continued to exchange military action and diplomatic sanctions. Relations between the two worsened after an attack on Sept. 18 on the Indian side of disputed Kashmir which killed 19 Indian soldiers, according to India. They claimed Pakistan aided the Islamic terrorists who carried out the attack. Although Pakistan denied this, India responded
on Sept. 29 with surgical strikes against reported terrorist camps on the Pakistan side of Kashmir. At a prayer service, Church leaders including Bishop Jacob Barnabas of Gurgaon and Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference prayed that leaders of both the nations be guided by wisdom and a genuine interest for their people’s welfare. "India is a role model across the world for its unity in diversity," said Bishop Barnabas. "Despite diverse languages, cultures and food, there is a sense of one nation and people feel proud to be Indian," he said. Bishop Barnabas said that India has always been "considered as a land of peace by other nations so it is our duty and responsibility to carry that forward." He wanted Catholics to become messengers of peace. Bishop Mascarenhas said Catholics pray for the nation and its leaders every day during Mass, especially on Sundays. "It is a symbolic gesture to unite ourselves to pray for the country faced as it is with problems and challenges," he said. Father Soosai Sebastian, vicar general of Delhi archdiocese said many nations are "buying expensive weapons even when people are dying of hunger." He urged people to organize peace meetings and discussions to speak about the need for peace rather than war and vengeance. In a program on Oct. 16, Catholics took a pledge to work for peace and recited a prayer. They pledged to reject violence and work to build a peaceful solution in society, reject discrimination and stand in support of oppressed people. Both India and Pakistan lay claim to Kashmir since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. Pakistan and India have fought at least three major wars over the region. The Indian government considers Jammu and Kashmir an integral part of India and accuses its neighbor Pakistan of supporting Muslim groups causing unrest in the region. Pakistan has denied this but says they will assist Kashmiri Muslims in their struggle for self-determination.