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Vatican Official Says Anti-Christian Violence Has Negatively Affected India’s Image

01/09/09 MUMBAI, India (UCAN) — Cardinal Ivan Dias, head of the Vatican-based Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, says the recent anti-Christian violence in India has negatively affected the country’s image as a secular and democratic country.

The Indian-born cardinal was speaking on Jan. 9 at a reception in his native Bombay archdiocese to mark the golden jubilee of his priestly ordination. Two archdiocesan priests ordained with him on Dec. 8, 1958, also joined in the jubilee Mass at Holy Name Cathedral in Mumbai, 1,410 kilometers southwest of New Delhi. Bombay archdiocese, India’s largest by number of Catholics, retains the former name of Mumbai.

The recent violence against Christians in Orissa and Karnataka states has tarnished the nation’s image as the world’s largest secular democracy, he told 5,000 Catholics at the program. “The world at large would expect a plausible response from the civic authorities,” he said. The gathering included around 100 priests and more than 400 nuns working in the archdiocese.

Cardinal Dias said Pope Benedict XVI was “deeply concerned and pained” over the attacks on Christians in India and had asked him to convey the pope’s prayers to the victims.

The prelate also said the Vatican was proud that the Church in India, despite its members forming less than 3 percent of India’s more than 1.2 billion people, was offering valuable contributions, particularly in the field of education, health care and social welfare.

He urged Christians to face the present challenges and difficulties courageously, reminding them that in the history of the Church, Christians were martyred all over the world.

About 60 people were killed and another 50,000 were displaced in interior villages of Orissa, eastern India, when Hindu radical groups orchestrated violence against Christians for seven weeks beginning Aug. 24. In Karnataka, southern India, Hindu fanatics attacked at least 24 churches and prayer halls Sept. 14-21.

Observing that the blood of martyrs is the seed for new Christians, Cardinal Dias said the Indian Church must thank God for the present situation and look with confidence to a promising future. “Whatever be the challenges and hardships we have to face, one thing is certain: Christ loves India and India needs Christ,” he said.

The cardinal received a loud round of applause when he began his speech saying, “It is good to be back home in Mumbai, amuchi (our) Mumbai, and meet familiar faces and enjoy this warm hospitality.” After traveling to many countries there is no place like home, he added. The 72-year-old Church leader was born in Mumbai and served as Bombay archbishop 1995-2006. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 2001.

Cardinal Dias said Pope Benedict and Vatican officials were worried about the health of his successor, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, who underwent treatment for stomach cancer a few months back.

Cardinal Gracias, who was also born in Mumbai, appeared thin and tired but addressed the gathering, saying Cardinal Dias had made a big difference as head of the archdiocese.

Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa and Daman, chairman of the Western Regional Bishops’ Council, of which Bombay archdiocese is a member, observed that Cardinal Dias had perhaps the shortest episcopal motto, Sevus, which means “servant” in Latin. His service as priest, bishop, archbishop, cardinal and now as prefect of a Vatican congregation have touched the lives of thousands of people in several continents, the Goa archbishop added.