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Catholics In Mumbai Pray For Victims Of Serial Blasts


September 11 2006

Church people have offered prayers for the victims of serial bomb blasts in Maharashtra state, while condemning the violence.

At least 37 people were killed on Sept. 8 when two or more bombs exploded within four minutes near a mosque in Malegaon, a town about 300 kilometers north of Mumbai, the state capital. Mumbai is 1,410 kilometers southwest of New Delhi.

The first bomb went off in the town square at 1:46 p.m. and another blast or blasts occurred within minutes of the first outside a graveyard, as people streamed out of an adjacent mosque after Friday prayers. About 300 were injured, most of them children.

Bombay archdiocesan spokesperson Father Anthony Charanghat said Mumbai still holds fresh memories of the July 11 railway bombings, when seven blasts rocked the city, India´s commercial capital, killing about 200 people and wounding more than 700 others.

He said several archdiocesan parishes offered prayers for the latest blast victims during Sunday Mass on Sept. 10.

"These acts of violence are condemned from all quarters," the priest told UCA News. "Terrorism has no religion," he added. Maintaining that violence cannot resolve any problem, he said, "We will always appeal for peace."

The Catholic Bishops´ Conference of India (CBCI) and other Christian groups also condemned the blasts and called for restoration of peace and religious harmony in the country.

Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes of Gandhinagar, CBCI secretary general, called the latest blasts "deplorable" and urged "all communities to maintain peace and communal amity." The Jesuit prelate offered prayers for the dead and wished for the speedy recovery of the injured.

All India Catholic Union president John Dayal called on authorities to restore "the faith of all communities in the rule of law and equity in administration." In his analysis, terrorism is directed against the state in other parts of the world, but in India it targets "noncombatant communities" to "foment confrontation and aggravate mutual distrust."

"Patently, every community is a target in this vicious binary of death where one act of violence has in it the seeds of the next one," Dayal said in a statement.

Dolphy D´Souza, president of Bombay Catholic Sabha (council), said the terrorists target crowded places to divide and rule. Government agencies need to counter these anti-national elements and bring peace in the area, he added.

Catholic Secular Forum, another lay organization in Mumbai, also sees the Malegaon violence as "a sinister move to divide communities." The government should nip the problem in the bud to prevent more such acts, forum general secretary Joseph Dias told UCA News.

Federal Home Minster Shivraj Patil told media that suspected terrorists engineered the explosion to create sectarian tension. Malegaon, in Nashik district, has a history of Hindu-Muslim tension.

The blast forced authorities to put the nation on high alert, increasing security at all popular pilgrimage centers including Mount Mary.

The government provided additional security at that shrine in Bandra, Mumbai, where the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Mother, Sept. 8 in the Church calendar, is traditionally celebrated with a weeklong fair.

Thousands of people who gathered for the festal Mass on Sept. 10, the final day, had to pass through tight security checks and metal detectors. Church volunteers also helped manage the crowd. The fair attracted 600,000 people each of the two weekend days, and an estimated 100,000 people attended the other days.