The call comes days after a statue of Jesus and Stations of the Cross were demolished in Karnataka state
Christians attend a midnight Mass on New Year's Eve at St. Xavier's College Church in Ahmedabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat on Dec. 31, 2020. (Photo: AFP)
A Catholic archbishop in southern India has appealed to the provincial government to protect Christians, their places of worship, religious symbols and sacred structures.
Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore said the Feb. 15 demolition of a statue of Jesus and Stations of the Cross at Gokunte in Kolar district of Karnataka state “had not only affected the sentiments of the Christian community but also the people of other faiths.”
“It was heartbreaking to see hundreds of people shedding tears,” Archbishop Machado said in a press statement on Feb. 17.
Local government officials claimed the statue was encroaching on government land but church leaders said it was in possession of St. Francis Xavier Church for close to three decades.
A dispute over the possession of the land was pending in Karnataka High Court but officials went ahead with the demolition even before the court could pass a final order.
The archdiocese had also filed a petition in the high court challenging the demolition of the Christian structures on Feb. 19.
We only fear that many more such harsh, orchestrated and insensitive attacks are sure to happen in the coming days
Archbishop Machado noted that in the past two years the state had “seen demolitions occurring at six such places on the hills and systematic attacks on churches across the state.”
These religious places were patronized and maintained as places of devotion in Bangalore and its surroundings for decades, he said.
“We only fear that many more such harsh, orchestrated and insensitive attacks are sure to happen in the coming days,” the prelate added.
Archbishop Machado hoped and prayed that the government will protect Christian places of worship, religious symbols and sacred structures.
Christians in Karnataka have been facing increased hostility from right-wing Hindu groups that have been lately targeting them and their institutions, falsely accusing the community members of converting Hindus to Christianity through forced and fraudulent means.
Church leaders have repeatedly clarified that they “don’t convert anyone through any illegal means as being alleged.”
The state assembly on Dec. 23 passed the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, criminalizing religious conversion through allurement, force and coercion.
The bill is now awaiting approval from the upper house or legislative council.
The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, also ruled by the BJP, was worst for anti-Christian violence with 102 incidents
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is reportedly engaged in winning support for the bill among the opposition and independent legislatures amid strong opposition to the move.
The United Christian Forum, an ecumenical group, in its recent report said Karnataka recorded 59 incidents of attacks against Christians in 2021, the highest in southern India and third highest in the country.
The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, also ruled by the BJP, was worst for anti-Christian violence with 102 incidents.
Christians make up only 2.3 percent of India's 1.39 billion population.
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