Mob attacks Catholic church in India amid tribal clashes, causes thousands in damages
A mob of hundreds of villagers vandalized a Catholic church in the Chhattisgarh state of India on Monday as tensions continue to rise between the area’s indigenous people who follow an animist religion and Christians.
Villagers armed with wooden sticks and iron rods barged into Sacred Heart Church at Edka village on Jan. 2, in the southern region of Narayanpur district, according to the Catholic nonprofit news agency Union of Catholic Asia News.
The mob broke the church’s windows and damaged the altar, crucifix, multiple pieces of furniture and statues. The villagers also vandalized a Marian grotto and a presbytery.
UCA News quotes parish priest Father Jomon Devasia to report that the total damages from the church attack are likely to cost roughly 250,000 Indian rupees ($3,016), which includes about 50,000 Indian rupees allegedly stolen by the mob.
“The mob destroyed everything, the church and the presbytery,” Devasia stated.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel promised action would be taken against the perpetrators of the vandalism.
The chief held a meeting with the Archbishop Victor Henry Thakur of Raipur to discuss the incident.
“We discussed the serious threat Christians face in the state and the failure of the police and district officials to prevent targeted attacks against them,” Archbishop Thakur told UCA News on Jan. 3.
The church, which had been standing for over five decades, was renovated five years ago.
Devasia told UCA News that he and four other Catholic priests reported the incident to a local police station. The police reportedly monitored the church leaders overnight to ensure their safety.
The attack is believed to have started after a few members of a group of indigenous animist people were injured while they were protesting earlier clashes in the region. What started out as a protest, turned into a mob storming the church.
According to Fides News Agency, on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2, two groups clashed after indigenous groups accused other tribes of converting to Christianity "by force or inducement."
The mob reportedly threw rocks at the church and forcefully opened the church doors.
Police who were with the protestors tried to stop the riot, but they could not calm the crowd. One officer suffered head injuries.
Sources from other villages in the Narayanpur district reported that the mob did more than destroy and vandalize the church.
“We are getting messages of more attacks that happened last night, and many of our faithful have been forced to seek refuge in nearby forests,” Pastor Mosses Logan, president of the Chhattisgarh State Christian Welfare Society, told UCA News.
Advocates report that the attack comes amid a long-running clash between non-Christian indigenous people who have tried to force Christians away from their faith and towards adopting traditional animist practices.
Chhattisgarh, ruled by the Congress Party, is made up of less than 2% of Christians out of the roughly 30 million people of the state.
In the past few months, over 1,000 indigenous Christians were reportedly forced out of their homes in the villages near Narayanpur, church sources told UCA News. Many were injured, and other villagers occupied their homes.
Archbishop Thakur has denied that the attack on the church had anything to do with Hindus opposing religious conversion to Christianity.
“The state police did not initiate action against groups that unleashed violence against Christians earlier," Thakur told UCA News. "Now, they are fearlessly attacking us."
Nicole Alcindor is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.