Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, expresses grave concern over the “unwillingness” of the Union government

KOCHI, Kerala – Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, expressed grave concern over the “unwillingness” of the Union government to send troops to bring the law and order situation under control in Orissa, where Christians were allegedly burnt alive, churches and convents and their other institutions set ablaze, during a weeklong attack on the community last week.

The head of the six-million strong Catholics, Vithayathil condemned the Union government’s lethargy and delay in sending para-military forces to Orissa where over a dozen persons were killed in large-scale rioting.

The cardinal was addressing a gathering of priests, nuns and laypersons August 30 at nearby Kakkanad to pay tributes to Father Thomas Pandippally who was murdered recently in Andhra Pradesh.

“The Centre is dithering on sending troops to Orissa. I had taken up the matter with the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Now it has found refuge in the excuse that troops can be sent only on the request of the state government,” Vithayathil, who is also the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), said.

The cardinal said prayers and fasting would be held in churches across the country on Sunday, September 7, over the violence in Orissa.

Reminding that Jesus Christ was among the millions of people who laid down their lives for the weal and welfare of humanity, the CBCI chief said Gospel promoters had never been afraid of martyrdom.

“Religious fanatics gain nothing by killing priests, Christians and setting churches on fire. They will only be able to take life out of the physical body. The Church has never run scared of fanatics. In fact it has only grown from the blood spilled by missionaries,” the cardinal stressed. Vithayathil said missionaries only spread the Gospel and it was left to the people to convert to Christianity or not.

Referring to the murder of Pandippally, he said the reason for the killing was not yet known. “He was engaged in helping the poor and the marginalised sections of society. Everybody must pray for his family members,” he added.

The murdered priest’s mother was present at the function.

Archbishop Thomas Coorilos of Thiruvalla said people should be hope that things would change for the better. Over the centuries, the Church had outlived the many challenges that it faced, he said. Auxiliary Bishop of Varpuzha (Latin) Archdiocese, Joseph Karikkassery, said the agonising cries of Pandippally should not go unheard.

“In Orissa, many victims of violence were still hiding in the forests fearing for their lives. Christianity will grow even if the government stifles the constitutional rights of Christians,” Karikkassery said.

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