India Must Regain Glory of Being Multi-Religious Nation, Says Archbishop

Last year's violence on Christians in Kandhamal district in India was "one of the saddest moments in the history of India," said Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference.

"I was very saddened by the image that India offered of itself and I still am. What happened in Kandhamal is a disgrace to the nation," he said. "We pray for our country, so everyone can live as brothers and sisters in our beloved homeland."

One year after the wave of violence that shook the entire nation, Cardinal Gracias said India has to now "regain its pristine glory of being a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual nation with values of peace and harmony, understanding and tolerance."

He lamented that religious freedom was completely trampled during the August 2008 violence against Christians following the murder of Hindu fundamentalist leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati. At least 120 people were murdered, 250 churches, destroyed and over 50,000 individuals, displaced.

"I myself have criticized the government for not having ensured the safety of a minority: our people were left at the mercy of the fundamentalists, law and order were altogether demolished," he was quoted saying by AsiaNews.

He said he was still worried and realizes that in Kandhamal, a district in the state of Orissa, and many other places "our people have suffered threats and often do not have the freedom to pray together."

"Many of our churches have yet to be restored and fear still lurks in the hearts of Christian communities. There are many situations of concern that must be monitored and addressed appropriately," he noted.

Gracias expressed hope that the new government would act more responsibly and keep religious freedom and the security of minorities as its priority.