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Indian priest attacked inside parish premises, bishops demand action

55 bike-riding youths hit Father Joseph Attuchalil of Palai diocese when he objected to their racing inside church compound
St. Mary’s Forane Church in Palai diocese.

St. Mary’s Forane Church in Palai diocese. (Photo: palaidiocese.com)

Published: February 26, 2024 11:48 AM GMT
Updated: February 26, 2024 12:12 PM GMT

A regional bishops’ council in southern India has condemned the attack on a Catholic priest inside a church compound by a group of bike-riding youths.

Father Joseph Attuchalil, assistant parish priest of St. Mary’s Forane Church in Palai diocese was injured on Feb. 23 when he objected to nearly 55 young people on bikes racing inside the Church compound as Lenten Friday prayer services and adoration were going on in the church.

“The priest is stable but still in the hospital as he needs more time to recover,” parish priest Father Mathew Kadookunnel told UCA News on Feb. 26.

The incident “stunned the entire society in Kerala and shattered the state's peaceful atmosphere,” said Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, chairman of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council.

“Heinous attempts were made to disrupt the worship going on in the church. There was a display of utter disrespect,” the cardinal said in a statement after the incident.

“The culprits should be punished” for attacking the priest in Poonjar parish, he demanded and sought intervention from the communist-led state government.

Police have arrested 27 persons, including 10 minors, and a manhunt is on to nab others who are charged with criminal offenses like criminal trespass and attempt to murder.

Police, however, have refused to disclose the names of arrested persons. 

According to Church leaders, the culprits mainly hail from the Muslim community.

They attacked the priest while he along with a parishioner was locking the gate to stop the young men from racing bikes inside the church compound.

Parishioners have passed a resolution demanding a probe by the National Investigation Agency, which specializes in terrorism-related cases and is under the federal government.

“It is not normal for young people from a different religious group to enter a church compound and knock down a priest,” Father Kadookunnel said.

We are waiting for the outcome of the probe by state police, Father Kadookunnel added.

The majority of the youths are from Erattupetta in Kottayam district, a Muslim stronghold where the Popular Front of India, an Islamic political organization, was active until it was banned in Sept. 2022 for terror links.

There are also reports that young Catholics were also among the accused.

Christians are the third largest religious community in Kerala forming 18.38 percent of the state's 33 million. Muslims make up 26.56 percent and Hindus 54.73 percent.

The national average of Christians is 2.3 percent of 1.4 billion people.

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CHHOTEBHAI
It's Important to know the religious identity and motivation of the culprits before commenting further.
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