Priest Brutally Killed in India; Bishops Call for Protection

The murder of a Catholic priest in India has stirred believers in the country to cry for more protection by the government amid continued Christian persecution.

Father Thomas Pandipally, 38, was found brutally tortured and murdered on the roadside at the town of Yellareddy on Aug. 17. The Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC) expressed "shock and anguish" and urged authorities to arrest the killers of the Catholic priest.

KCBC deputy secretary Father Stephen Alathara said it is "most unfortunate" that Christian missioners are being targeted in the country, while noting that Pandipally was the latest victim in a series of violent attacks on missioners.

Pandippally, a member of Carmelite of Mary Immaculate, was found murdered with multiple head injuries and more than 30 stabbings.

According to a Catholic source, the priest was assassinated on the night of Aug. 16, on the way back to his residence after attending a service at the Yellareddy parish in Nizamabad district.

Terribly shaken by the incident, Christian leaders in Andhra Pradesh expressed dismal over the murder, which they suspect is the handiwork of Hindu extremists opposing Christian missionary activities and the educational developments in the state.

According to the Rev. Father Alex Thannippara, a provincial superior of the CMI order, the state witnessed brutal and mysterious murders of Christian workers in the past eight years.

He pointed out incidents that occurred early this year when a mob of 500 people led by Hindu extremists prevented the Hyderabad archbishop from blessing the new building of an HIV/AIDS care center, and two years ago when the school where the slain priest worked was also targeted.

KCBC, which is a forum of bishops of Kerala's 29 dioceses, called on the federal and state governments to protect missioners who work for the marginalized and poor in the country. Many Christians in the country are losing faith in the country's ability to bring to justice those responsible for a string of communal attacks, according to Ecumenical News Service.

"The Church in India is shocked and deeply saddened by this barbarous killing, the result of a growing climate of intolerance and violence against Christians in this country," Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad said.

While saddened, the 65-year-old archbishop called Pandipally a martyr.

"He sacrificed his life for the poor and marginalized," Joji said. "But he did not die in vain, because his body and his blood enrich the Church in India, particularly the Church in Andhra Pradesh – the southeastern state where he died."

Pandipally, who hails from Kerala, was actively involved in education and social services. He joined the Chanda mission of the CMI on June 24, 1987, and was ordained a priest in 2002.

The Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches (AFPC) has strongly condemned the gruesome massacre of Pandipally and demanded that violent communal groups be banned. The APFC said they would take up the case with the Chief Minister of AP and the State Minorities Commission.

In the last 8 months there were 27 major attacks against Christians in the state.

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