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Rector of Kerala shrine stabbed to death

Indian police search for sacristan who had been in dispute with Father Xavier Thelakat

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 Rector of Kerala shrine stabbed to death

Father Xavier Thelakat bled to death after being stabbed near a Kerala shrine on March 1. (Photo supplied)

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Father Xavier Thelakat, rector of St. Thomas International Shrine in the Indian state of Kerala, was stabbed to death on March 1, said officials of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese.

Police are searching for a sacristan who had been in a dispute with the 52-year-old priest and was seen running away from the scene.

"The wounds were on the legs. It seems the artery of his thigh was cut and he bled to death because of the delay in taking him to hospital," archdiocesan spokesman Father Paul Karedan told ucanews.com.

The shrine sits on a hill about 1,200 feet above sea level. Father Xavier was halfway up the hill in an area that is not passable for motor vehicles when the attack took place.

"It must have taken at least an hour to carry the victim down and then some more time to take him to hospital. It happened at noon," Father Karedan said.

The sacristan, known only as Johnny, had ill feeling toward the priest, who took charge as rector seven years ago. The priest wanted to remove Johnny from his job following complaints about his immoral life, a senior priest said.

The shrine is particularly important for Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Catholics as it is considered a place visited by St. Thomas the Apostle, to whom they trace their Catholic faith.

According to tradition, the apostle landed in the coastal area in AD 52 and spent 20 years there. The shrine sits on a hill where the apostle is believed to have spent solitary hours of prayer.

The Vatican elevated the ancient shrine to the status of an international Catholic shrine in 2004.

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