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Bishop calls for restraint amid anti-Christian incidents

04/08/09 JABALPUR, India (UCAN) — A Catholic bishop in central India has asked his people to exercise restraint amid apparent provocations from Hindu radical groups.

According to Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh state has witnessed a slew of incidents in the past few weeks aimed to provoke Christians. The latest was on April 5 when a Blessed Mother’s statue was found headless.

Such incidents are tactics to polarize Christians and Hindus in the state ahead of the general election and Christians should be careful not be provoked, the prelate told a meeting of his diocese’s priests on April 4.

Madhya Pradesh will go to the polls on April 23 and 30 to elect its 29 members of parliament. India will elect its 543-member national parliament in a five-phased poll starting April 16.

Bishop Almeida told UCA News that some Hindu radicals have also lodged police reports against priests and nuns of his diocese, accusing them of converting gullible people to Christianity and also trafficking in children.

On March 28, Hindu radicals demonstrated before an orphanage the Missionaries of Charity nuns manage in Jabalpur, a major town in the state. “We were accused of trafficking in children,” said Sister Maria Maxim who is in charge of the orphanage, called Anand Bhawan (house of bliss).

The Hindu radicals had brought along a woman who a year ago had come to the orphanage saying she was an unwed mother and could not look after her child, Sister Maxim said.

Sister Annie Thomas, another nun at the orphanage, said they do not accept such children without proper documents. She stated that they had produced the necessary documents to the police who then “rejected the complaint.”

However, the Hindu radicals succeeded in defaming Christians by publishing “baseless news” in local newspapers, Sister Thomas regretted.

Simon Xavier, a Catholic layperson in Jabalpur in whose property the vandalized Marian statue stood, said the statue incident did not trigger violence since the local parish priest had advised Catholics not to get agitated.

He added that police had said a drunkard destroyed the statue.

Bishop Almeida said even a slight reaction to such provocations would disrupt social harmony. “Hence the best way to deal with such situations is to maintain restrain and take the available legal course.”

He also regretted that the state government has not been helpful to Christians. The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, (Indian people’s party) has governed the state from December 2003. It was re-elected to the state assembly in 2008.

During the past five years, Christians in the state have witnessed more than 170 incidents of attacks. Hindu radicals allege that Christian charitable services are a facade for converting poor people.