Agra (Matters India Reporter): Unidentified miscreants broke statues and tied a dog chain to Mother Mary’s neck as they vandalized a Catholic church in Agra, a top tourist spot in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Father Eugene Moon Lazarus, parish priest of St. March’s Church, discovered the vandalism in the wee hours of Thursday.
In his First Information Report filed at the nearest Rakabganj police station, the parish priest said the anti-theft alarm of his car aroused him and three other priests residing in the presbytery in the early morning. “We saw the side door window mirrors were broken and some people running out from the boundary of church.”
Father Lazarus said they shouted but the miscreants ran away.
The priests also discovered four statues of Mother Mary and the glass case broken. The head of Baby Jesus statue was broken and kept in the hands of Mother Mary’s statue.
The parish priest said they felt highly insulted after seeing a dog chain tied to the neck of Mother Mary’s human size statue. “The attackers have not only broken the images inside the church but they have played with the sentiments of Christian community,” the FIR stated.
The church is situated inside the cantonment area in Agra, the city of Taj Mahal.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India condemned “the sacrilegious acts” and urged state and federal governments to take swift and appropriate action to book the culprits and safeguard places of worship.
“The way the venerable statues were attacked and desecrated to bring maximum shame and disgrace on the venerable icons confirm that these were not just mere acts of vandalism, but well planned dastardly acts, aimed at deeply wounding the religious feelings and creating a feeling of insecurity among the minorities,” said a statement issued by conference spokesperson Monsignor Joseph Chinnayyan.
The sense of security of the minorities and the peace and harmony of all the citizens of India should not be allowed to be tampered upon by such fringe elements or insane minds, the statement added.
The incident occurred when the members of the Agra Regional Bishops’ Council (ARBC) were having their annual meeting nearby. Bishops from the Latin dioceses under Agra metropolitan see and the Oriental Rites in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Rajasthan visited the vandalized church Thursday morning.
Dog chain tied to Marian statue
District and police officials reached the church in the morning to review security arrangements, police said.
Meanwhile, Christian community leaders in Agra have expressed anger over the incident and demanded firm action against the culprits.
This is the latest in a series of attacks on churches and other Christian buildings that began on December 1, 2014.
On Tuesday, federal Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told NDTV that most church attack cases had been resolved and none of the attackers were found to be Hindus.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing UNESCO in France earlier in the week, said that his government is committed to defending the rights and liberties of all Indians.
In February, addressing a conference organized by Christian groups in Delhi, Mr Modi had said, “My government will not allow any group belonging to majority or minority to incite hatred against others.”
Vandals target Agra church – UCAN
Attack comes day after finance minister rejects anti-Christian campaign claims.
Suspected Hindu hardliners have vandalized church in Agra a day after India's finance minister Arun Jaitly described a series of attacks on churches and Christians in recent months as criminal acts and not hate crimes.
Vandals broke open the gates of St Mary's Church in the city that’s home to the Taj Mahal and destroyed two statues on Thursday morning, parish priest Eugene Lazarus told ucanews.com.
The priest said he was awoken at about 3:30am by his car alarm and found all four of its doors open and windscreen smashed.
Later he saw the open church gate and destroyed statues, which had been housed in glass cases in the grottos of the church.
"One statue was made from fiberglass and they could not smash it. They seemed to have put a dog leash round the neck of the statue and pulled it from its stand," the priest said.
He said the 93-year old parish church has no history of any sectarian tension.
"People lived here peacefully. The church is open for all people, and even Hindus come and pray in the church," he said.
"It was such a friendly atmosphere that we did not even think of having a guard for the church," he added.
An archdiocese official said they suspect the incident was part of a spate of anti-Christian attacks that have taken place across India since the Hindu nationalist BJP came to power almost a year ago.
Since December, at least six churches in Delhi have been vandalized and there have been scores of other anti-Christian attacks in India, including the rape of an elderly nun. Christian leaders say the incidents were hate crimes by Hindu fanatics.
However, Minister Jaitly told a television news channel on Tuesday that the government believes "all the incidents were law and order problems".
Police have arrested four migrants from Bangladesh for the rape last month of the nun in West Bengal state.
Jaitly said not "a single case [attack] was carried out by the majority community … nor were they of a political nature or communal."
Christian leaders like Fr Dominic Emmanuel, spokesperson for Delhi archdiocese, questioned the validity of Jaitly's statement.
"How can he make such statements? He may say the attacks are not communal, but how can he be so sure that they are not by the majority community? Is he suggesting minority communities are attacking Christians?" he said.
"I seriously suspect these attacks, including the one in Agra, are part of an anti-Christian campaign," the priest said.