150-year-old cathedral torched in central India (Lead)

September 19th, 2008 - 8:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhopal, Sep 19 (IANS) A 150-year-old church in Madhya Pradesh’s Jabalpur town was set on fire Thursday night in continuing attacks against Christian institutions in certain parts of the country by right-wing Hindu groups.The incident led to all Christian missionary schools and colleges in the state being closed Friday as a mark of protest.

The altar and statues inside the 150-year-old St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral in the cantonment area of Jabalpur, about 300 km from the state capital, were burnt in the fire Thursday night, police said. The church was closed at the time.

Parish priests told the police that the two entered by breaking the glass panes of the door and set fire to the cathedral altar. The altar, statues of St. Peter and St. Paul, and the carpet were damaged. However, fire fighters were alerted and the blaze was soon doused.

“The sisters staying in the building adjoining the boundary wall of the cathedral spotted the duo fleeing the spot on a motorcycle but could not see their faces since it was dark,” a police official said.

All missionary schools and colleges in Jabalpur, famous for marble rocks, were closed to protest the incident.

Members of the Christian community shouted slogans and demanded the culprits’ arrest. They blocked Polytechnic road for several hours.

“Tension prevails in Sadar (Cantonment) locality where the church is located and some youths have vandalized few shops,” a police official said.

“A complaint has been lodged against unidentified people in the cantonment police station,” Collector Hariranjan Rao told IANS on phone.

A delegation of the Christian community members headed by Bishop Jerald Almeda submitted a memorandum to Chouhan, demanding the arrest of the culprits and a judicial enquiry into the incident.

They also sought security for the community people, their places of worship and the academic institutions run by missionaries.

State Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the incident was a “conspiracy to bring a bad name to the state and those found guilty would not be spared.”

This is the third case of assault on Christian missionaries in the state in the past few weeks. On Monday, a watchman of Carmel Convent School in Ujjain was beaten up.

On Sep 7, 86-year-old St. Bartholomew church in Ratlam district was set on fire.

In the Ratlam case, the police have blamed the church watchman Noel Pare. But the Catholic Bishops Council have said that the watchman was innocent and claimed that the police were shielding the real culprits who set fire to the church.

Hindu radicals have attacked Christian shrines and other religious symbols in the states of Orissa and Karnataka, alleging that they were indulging in illegal conversion of Hindus into Christi

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