The priests and seminarians were made to sit on the floor of the police station.

 Burning Santa’s sleigh

On the night of 14th December 2017, a  group of 30 Seminarians and two priests from St. Ephrem’ Theological College in Satna, Madhya Pradesh were detained as they were conducting a routine Christmas carol singing programme, which has been the practice during the Christmas season for the last 30 years.  The vehicle of the priests was torched by a mob of goons.

What is even more shocking is that eight priests who later went to inquire about the detained priests and seminarians were also taken into custody. Shamefully the situation outside the police station was allowed to be so hostile that even those who wanted to approach the detained persons could get no access to them.

The charge of conversion on which the priests and seminarians are detained is frivolous and laughable. The violence perpetrated by groups who claim to be “nationalists” and have taken upon themselves the mantle of protecting “nationalism’ and “religion” is disgraceful. The complicity of the police who arrested the seminarians and stood by helplessly as the priests and seminarians were assaulted, is disgusting and appalling. Such misuse of the police force and break down of law and order is not tolerable in a democracy and in a civilized society.

There is a rising anti-Christian wave in India after the BJP government took power. Fuelled often by tacit silence from the ruling government who are prone to issue platitudes, right wing Hindu groups have begun to now physically attack Christians. For some time now I have been reading anti- Christian propaganda on twitter and Facebook. Any criticism of the government is first met with a scrutiny of the religion of the author of the tweet. Abuse then follows, especially if you belong to one of India’s minority faiths. The Prime Minister and his government can no longer look at these as isolated incidences; they are patterns of a fascist behaviour that has to be stopped now, and that call must be heard from his office constantly till the madness stops. 

I have been heartened by the constant efforts of Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, SFX, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India who has worked hard to constantly raise the concerns of the community, with the government. He has also been magnanimous in his praise for the Prime Minister and his government for the assistance that has been sought; yet has not been afraid to speak his mind. His leadership heartens me. 

The response of the government to the petitions of the community has always been too little, too late. When the Prime Minister seeks at an election rally to roll call individual priests and nuns whom the government has intervened on behalf off, in terrorist situations, he only betrays the fact that he has to make a ‘special effort’ for such individuals when this should be the duty of the government and they should have swung into action.

Here may I give credit to our foreign minister who seems to wear her heart on her sleeve when it comes to Indians stuck in foreign lands and who reach out to her. But this goodness is not in my opinion reflected of the government as a whole, who seem to be more agitated with constructive criticism and throw the baby out with the bath water.

The car of the priest set on fire

Recently a good bishop in Gujarat was singled out by the press for his ‘call for prayers’ in the light of the elections in his state. This same press chooses to look the other way when incidences like this take place.  ‘Presstitues’, a term which was contemptuously used by a member of this government  for some media houses that seem to have been bought out by political masters, is also being encouraged in action by this very government. While one may disagree with the choice of words that the good bishop used, one cannot disagree with the fears in his heart; fears that incidences like this only ratify.

Christmas is a time for giving and for forgiving. My first prayer was for our persecutors, the other was for my brother priests and seminarians in Satna. This mindless hatred must end, and end now. For me, the season is one of love and while I am angry at what has happened I know Jesus, our Lord, died for all humanity. On the cross He prayed for forgiveness, for those who did not know what they were doing; I doubt the government can hide behind that cover. But pray I do, for our nation that I love and that I am proud to be a son of.

For those who continue to spread hate in this nation, I doubt they even understand the meaning of nationalism. It’s time they realise that burning Santa’s sleigh makes them villainous!

Fr Warner D’souza

Extracts of the first three paragraph taken from the CBCI statement

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