New Delhi: A forum of Catholic members has written an open letter to the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India on the alleged acts of violence against Christians and Christian institutions in Manipur, during the recent ethnic violence in the state, and the church’s muted response to it.
The Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace wrote that they were “shocked and distressed at the recent violence in Manipur.” The violence has led to over 70 deaths and over 200 have been injured. Over 30,000 are displaced.
Quoting John Dayal, from a piece he wrote on Union of Catholic Asian News, the Forum noted that the ethnic conflict was allowed to “turn anti-Christian.” Christians of all communities in the region, including Catholics, have been victims, Dayal had written.
The Forum agreed with Dayal’s comparison of this violence to the Kandhamal riots of 2008.
The Forum then noted its disappointment with the “lukewarm response of the official Church to the increasing violence against Christians ever since Narendra Modi came to power and even the appreciation of the BJP government at the centre by some bishops.”
The Forum noted that Cardinal George Alencherry had also allegedly made the statement that, “Christians are safe under Modi regime.”
This announcement came as Archbishop Peter Machado and two Christian organisations filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court against attacks on Christians.
The letter is critical of churches’ lack of response in spite of a protest at Jantar Mantar in February, which was attended by the Archbishop of Delhi Anil Couto and Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Faridabad.
“Within two months, the two Archbishops accorded a cordial welcome to PM Narendra Modi at the Sacred Heart Cathedral Church, New Delhi on April 9, 2023 the Occasion of Easter. The heads of different Churches that included Cardinal Alenchery had a meeting with PM Modi during his recent visit to Kerala. On both occasions the bishops failed to raise the issue of increasing violence against Christians and attacks on their churches and institutions.”
The Forum writes that Christians are “highly confused during this crisis period because of the ambivalent, confusing and even contradicting statements” from church leaders.
With sharp words the Forum writes that the CBCI president, to whom the letter is addressed, was “satisfied with making an appeal for praying for peace in Manipur.”
In contrast, the heads of the Telugu Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Poola Anthony and the Archbishop of Bangalore Peter Machado “”had the courage and compassion to condemn the rampant violence in Manipur targeting the Christian tribals and to remind the Central and State government of their responsibility” to protect the lives and properties of people and foster religious tolerance.
The Forum notes that Muslims too have faced violence and elimination and that the country is stuck in a “disastrous situation of fascism.”
The writers say that at this crucial juncture, “The Church cannot be silent or appear to be supportive of the anti-people government.”
They called upon the CBCI to call an all-India seminar and foster strategies to face today’s challenges.
The letter is signed by the Forum’s national convenor Dorothy Fernandes PBVM, national treasurer Anand Mathew IMS, and national secretary Antony F. Thekkiniyath OFM CAP.