Friday, August 29, 2008

Orissa Violence: 20,275 Institutions Close for a Day

Catholic Schools Closed As Christians Nationwide Demand Peace In Orissa

August 29, 2008

NEW DELHI (UCAN) -- Catholic schools across India remained closed on Aug. 29 as Religious, dioceses and other groups demanded and prayed for peace in Orissa state, where anti-Christian violence continues.

More than 700 Religious, clergy, lay Catholics and other Christians, and people of other religions have taken part so far in an Aug. 27-29 candlelight vigil at the Jesuits' St. Xavier's College in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state, 1,460 kilometers southeast of New Delhi.

West Bengal is just north of Orissa, where anti-Christian violence started Aug. 25, following the deaths of Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and five of his associates in Kandhamal district Aug. 23.

Maoists reportedly claimed responsibility for the killings, but some Hindu groups have alleged Christians masterminded the killing, a charge all Christian Churches and denominations have denied.

Father George Pattery, who heads the Jesuit's Calcutta province and serves as president of the West Bengal region of Catholic Religious of India, says he organized the vigil to "express their solidarity" with suffering Christians. The group wanted to make this a prayer of protest against violence and injustice, and for people who are being misled by others, he explained.

Armed mobs of radical Hindus have burned down at least 50 churches, hundreds of Christian homes and convents in the four days of violence, Church officials say in statements. They also say hundreds of Christians have fled their homes for forest cover to save their life.

In Indore, Madhya Pradesh state, central India, about 2,000 people from different religions joined a peace march on Aug. 28. The silent rally started from the main city's square and proceeded to the city administration's head office. The leaders, including Hindus, submitted a memorandum to one of the city's top officials. The memorandum asked federal government leaders, to whom it was addressed, to ensure the safety of Christians in Orissa and the restoration of peace in the state.

During the rally, Bharat Chhaparwal, former vice chancellor of Indore University, told UCA News the "a brutal killing of innocent people is a barbaric act, and it is a matter of shame for all Indians." He asked the government to arrest the murderers immediately.

Indore diocese's spokesperson, Father Hans Puthiakulangara, said all Catholic educational institutions in the state would stay closed.

The Indian Catholic Church's 160 Catholic dioceses and some 240 Religious congregations have closed their 20,275 educational institutions, which serve more than 10 million students, more than 80 percent of whom are not Christians.

Sister M. Joseline, principal of St. Mary's School in eastern New Delhi, in a letter circulated to students' parents, said they are closing the school to make the public aware of the dangers of sectarian violence.

"What is at stake is not only the freedom of a minority community, but India's secular democracy and its commitment to human rights and constitutional guarantees" of religious freedom, she wrote. "The general public must wake up to the dangers of the threats that are manifested in the violence in Orissa."

Other Catholic schools reportedly circulated similar notes.

Christian groups in Mangalore, a coastal Catholic stronghold 2,290 kilometers southwest of New Delhi, jointly sent a memorandum to the Orissa government on Aug. 26 asking it to protect minority Christians.

The memorandum, which local Catholic Church leaders signed, demanded deployment of the army to bring normalcy in Orissa. The groups also asked for a high-level probe into the murder of the Hindu leader.

Source: UCANews

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