Indian Catholic News

Fire-damaged Delhi church re-dedicated

Some Christians believe the incident was arson and part of a wave of anti-Christian attacks.

The renovated altar of St. Sebastian Church, which was gutted by a fire in 2014. Police investigation said an electrical short circuit caused the fire but Catholics insist it was arson. ( photo)
New Delhi: 

Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi rededicated a church on Jan. 15 that was burned down two years ago, and expressed sadness over the sloppy investigation into the incident.

St. Sebastian Church in the Dilshad Garden area of New Delhi was gutted on Dec. 1, 2014 and Catholics "did our best to protest, showed our displeasure on the streets and met with several government officials," the archbishop recalled, while blessing the rebuilt church.

"In the end, it was a very sad result," he said, adding that the investigation after two months concluded that the early morning fire was due to an electric short circuit.

The whole episode gave us "a lesson that we as Christians have to always be ready to face persecution in the name of Jesus."

The fire was followed by a series of crimes against Catholics and city churches. A stone was thrown at a church on Dec. 8 and a fire destroyed a Nativity scene in another on Jan. 5, 2015.

A Marian grotto was vandalized ten days later and another church was desecrated in New Delhi in February that year.

The inside of the St. Sebastian Church of Delhi Archdiocese, gutted by a fire in 2014. Some Catholics claim the burning was on purpose and part of a wave of anti-Christian violence. ( photo)

A. Chinnapan, secretary general of the All India Catholic Union, suspected that Hindu extremists were behind the attack. "The investigation was not fair and it was not done wholeheartedly," he said.

Although both the federal and the state governments promised financial help to rebuild the church, nothing was done, he said.

The attacks happened months after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) won a landslide in the national elections and its leader Narendra Modi became prime minister.

"The Delhi police's approach was very weak from the beginning and they did not seem to show any commitment," said A.C. Michael, a former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission, and a Catholic leader.

Christian leaders like him believe the attack was part of a wave of anti-Christian violence the nation witnessed, allegedly orchestrated by Hindu groups who considered the BJP's victory as a mandate for them to accelerate their nationalist agenda.

Delhi Archdiocese has has some 100,000 Catholics from a population of some 30 million people. Catholics are spread across 61 parishes in the city and its suburbs. They belong to the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites. The Latin rite follows the Roman liturgy and the other two Eastern rites follow Syrian church traditions. Together, the three rites comprise the Catholic Church in India.

Source: UCAN

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