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Christmas-season Robberies In Jharkhand Parishes Worry Church

12/29/08 RANCHI, India (UCAN) — Church leaders in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand say they are worried about robberies in two parishes of Ranchi archdiocese during the Christmas season.

A gang of 15 masked and armed men removed about 240,000 rupees (about US$5,000) from Dighia parish on Dec. 19, after attacking its priest and a seminarian.

The money comprised funds from a credit society the parish runs as well as donations for relief aid to victims of sectarian violence in Orissa, Jharkhand’s southern neighbor.

The parish is based 35 kilometers west of Ranchi, the state capital, which lies 1,160 kilometers southeast of New Delhi.

Two days earlier, on Dec. 17, armed men robbed neighboring Patrachauli parish of about 9,000 rupees, Jesuit Father Patrick Tete reported. The money comprised donations parishioners had collected for the Orissa victims.

According to Father Tete, the parish priest, the robbers confronted him and three other Jesuits at gunpoint and demanded half a million rupees. They then ransacked all the rooms but could not find more money.

Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi said he is worried about the motive behind the incidents. “Two incidents have taken place in two neighboring parishes just before Christmas. We don’t know whether their intention was just to rob or to disturb the Church,” he told UCA News.

The cardinal pointed out that many robberies have occurred, giving the impression that law and order in the state is in shambles. “We are worried because these incidents are disturbing our activities in remote parishes and villages,” he said. “But we cannot stop our mission.”

Father Oscar Barla, who works in a school in Dighia parish, agreed the incidents are “a matter of worry” for the Church. “Every now and then robbers attack parishes — they do not even spare nuns,” he added.

Father Anthony Bruno Xalxo, the Dighia parish priest, describing the robbery, told UCA News on Dec. 21 that he had opened the door to knocks at about midnight, thinking someone wanted him to anoint a sick person.

The robbers then rushed in and pointed a gun to his head. They demanded 1 million rupees, saying they had information the parish had that much money. They then ransacked the priest’s room and removed about 100,000 rupees.

One of them then smothered the 66-year-old priest but stopped just as he was about to collapse. They then asked him to take them to the office of the parish unit of the Chotanagpur Catholic Cooperative Credit society within the presbytery.

They also woke and beat theology student Mukul Kullu, who was in the parish to help out with Christmas services. The robbers tied up the two of them and ransacked the other rooms for two hours.

According to Father Xalxo, the 140,000 rupees the thieves stole from the credit society saved his life. “They had planned to kill me” if more money was not found, he said.

After the robbers left, the priest and seminarian managed to free themselves and rang the church bell, which gathered some parishioners. The priest also called the police.

Cooperative credit society manager Prakash Minj told UCA News on Dec. 21 that the organization needs about 200,000 rupees for daily transactions. “The office works till evening. We cannot take money to a bank in town. We have to keep it in the office. We don’t have an option,” he explained.

Minj said the robbers have taken money that belongs to poor people. “It is a big problem for us to recover that amount.”

Local police officer Akhileshwar Jha told UCA News he suspects the same gang was involved in the two incidents. “We are investigating,” he said.