The inauguration of the new bell at Srinagar’s Holy Family Catholic Church, which lost its original bell in an arson attack in 1967, was attended by Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.
Srinagar: For the first time in 50 years, a church bell rang in Holy Family Catholic Church on Srinagar’s Maulana Azad Road on Sunday. The bell, weighing 105 kilograms, was inaugurated by representatives of all faiths – Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.
The Parish priest Father Roy Matthews officiated the ceremony. Father Sebastin Nagathungal blessed the bell, which was followed by a community meal.
Established in 1896 by Reverend Father Winkley M.H.M., the church, till the early 1970s, had English and Dutch priests. Later, it was entrusted to Capuchin Missionaries of Kerala.
Presently, the church mans 42 churches (two in Kashmir) and 36 educational institutions and hospitals, serving the remote areas of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. It has one mission centre in Srinagar and one in Baramulla – both of them simultaneously initiated in the 1890s.
The original church bell was damaged in an arson attack on June 7, 1967. Fifty years later, the new bell – a contribution from a local Christian family – was brought here from Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh.
“By this assembly of different faiths, the church in Kashmir wants to share its joy with people of all communities,” the church said in its official statement. “It wants to give out the message to all communities that human race is one and questions of minority and majority are only a matter of numbers, while harmonious co-existence of all creation is the fundamental truth of life and more so in Kashmir.”
Around 30 Catholic families live in the Valley “Our intention of inviting people from different faiths was to share our joy with the whole community,” Sydney Mark Rath, one of the organisers of the event, told The Wire. “We might be a small community but at the end of the day, we are all Kashmiris here and have been living in harmony with people of other faiths without any problems for the past several decades.”
Manzoor Ahmad Malik who was representing the local Muslim community in the ceremony said, “We want to send out a message of peace and communal harmony to the world as many misconceptions are being spread about Kashmiri people,” Malik told The Wire, adding that politicians should not divide the people of the Valley on communal lines for the sake of votes. “People from all faiths have been living in harmony with Kashmiri Muslims for ages,” he said.
“We all want Kashmiri Pandits to come back here and live like we used to earlier,” he said. “Many Kashmiri Pandits who didn’t leave the Valley in the 1990s are living in peace among their Kashmiri Muslim neighbours here.”
Father Mathews, the priest-in-charge, told The Wire, “We have been living in the Valley in harmony with people of all other faiths,” adding that people outside have “grossly misunderstood” Kashmir. “We wanted to tell everyone that we, as people, are one in Kashmir no matter what our belief or faith is. This message of communal harmony and oneness of Kashmiris – irrespective of their faiths – should go out to the world.”
Last year, the church had a muted Christmas celebration in the wake of more than 90 civilian deaths in turmoil across the Valley.