Press Release on Va ndalisation of Places of Worship in Sundargarh District of Odisha
On 1, April 2018, in the late night of Easter Sunday, some miscreants vandalized a grotto outside the compound of St. Thomas Church, Salangabahal, mutilated the Statue of Our Lady, and broke the head of the Statue of Child Jesus in the grotto. They smashed a Statue of Our Lady in another Grotto in Gyanpali village and attempted to burn the Church of the Victory of the Cross in Bihabandh in the Diocese of Rourkela. These incidents have already been reported in the Press. The antisocial elements had also chopped off the head of a statue of a bull at the Shiva Temple in the vicinity.
On 7th April 2018, a delegation of Bishops which comprised of Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas SFX, the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), Archbishop John Barwa SVD, the Regional Chairman of the Odisha Catholic Bishops’ Council (OCBC), Bishop Kishor Kumar Kujur, the Bishop of Rourkela, Bishop Telesphore Bilung SVD, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Ranchi, Bishop Alphonse Bilung, SVD, Bishop Emeritus of Rourkela, visited the affected areas. They were received by a large number of priests, sisters and huge crowds of people whom they led in prayer at each of the places. Sr. Teresa Dungdung, the Superior General of the Handmaids of Mary also joined the Bishops. Prayers were offered for reparation as well as for forgiveness and conversion of those who were involved in these reprehensible crimes.
According to the assessment of the security forces, there seems to be a systematic premeditated ploy to disturb the peace of the people who have been living in age old harmony with each other in these villages. It appears that the anti-social elements targeted the holy places of two communities seeking to create a communal divide. The alertness of our priests and the Bishop Kishor and Archbishop Barwa, both of whom began contacting immediately the Government and police authorities saved the situation which could have otherwise turned grave.
The prelates addressed the crowds and thanked them for their peaceful and prayerful response to the incidents. They told the people that they shared their shock, deep anguish and pain. Condemning the attacks on both the Christian and Hindu places of worship, they exhorted them not to fall prey to the divisive forces. Later the Bishops also visited the damaged Temple and met with the Managing Committee Members. In a very friendly and cordial atmosphere where Police Authorities were also present the Bishops and the Committee members sympathized with each other, expressed reciprocal respect and promised that they would work together to maintain peace.
The Secretary General of the CBCI conveyed the solidarity of all the Bishops and of the whole Catholic community in India. He informed the people that in the meeting for Collective Action for Dialogue and Social Harmony held in Goa recently, Swami Goswami Sushil Maharaj and Mr. Paramjit Singh Chandok had denounced the attacks on Christian places of worship in no uncertain terms. Bishop Kujur expressed gratefulness to the District Administration and the Superintendent of Police for their immediate action and for personally visiting and supervising the social security by camping in the locality, and for providing enough personnel not only in the affected places but also giving adequate protection to the Churches in the district.
While we reiterate that the incidents against the places of worship should have never happened and bring us shame and pain, we are proud of the people of Sundargarh District who have shown that we are capable of fighting the forces that want to divide us and polarize us.
God bless the people of Sundargarh, God bless Odisha, God bless India!
Archbishop John Barwa, SVD
Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar
Odisha Catholic Bishops’ Council,
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, SFX
Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India (CBCI)
Bishop Kishore Kumar Kujur
Bishop of Rourkela
Bishop Telephore Bilung, SVD
Auxiliary Bishop of Archdiocese of Ranchi