Violence against Christians in India

Tuesday, October 14 2008

In a letter sent to Canada’s Prime Minister, Mr. Stephen Harper, the President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop V. James Weisgerber, has asked on behalf of all the Bishops of Canada that the Government of India be encouraged to end the anti-Christian violence in the country. The Bishops also asked Prime Minister Harper to verify that Canadian funds are not being sent to support groups responsible for the violence.

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Re: Violence against Christians in India

Dear Prime Minister:

First of all, congratulations to you and your party on being re-elected to form the Government of Canada. The stability and integrity of government are not only important for a country’s leadership, but are also significant factors that have profound impact on society itself. At the same time, the Catholic Bishops of Canada know these are challenging times for our nation, especially given the major economic and social issues on which there are so many divergent perspectives.

I wish to draw your attention and that of the Government of Canada to the violence that Catholics and other Christians have been suffering in India especially over the past three months, although it also needs to be pointed out that this is not simply a recent development.

According to substantiated news reports, this past summer there have been pre-meditated mob attacks in the state of Orissa as well as in the states of Karnataka and Madha Pradesh. These have resulted in the deaths of at least 57 people in Orissa alone; campaigns of intimidation and forced conversions of Christians to Hinduism; the vandalism and destruction of thousands of homes and scores of church institutions, including churches, prayer halls, colleges, schools and orphanages; and the flight of over 10,000 people to refugee centres plus another estimated 40,000 into the forests.

Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, as well as Catholic and other Christian leaders, have spoken out in concern and criticism. Among the voices to be raised has been that of Pope Benedict XVI, but even a simple assurance on 12 October 2008 of his prayers for the Christians in India “during this difficult time” met with an angry reaction from India’s main opposition party, the Hindu nationalist BJP, which claimed that the Pope was interfering in India’s internal affairs.

The problem thus is not only one of brutal violence against a tiny minority, but also an outpouring of extreme nationalism – all the more worrisome because India is the most populous democracy in the world and, as a Commonwealth country and thus a signatory to the Singapore Declaration, should be committed to “expand human understanding and understanding among nations, assist in the elimination of discrimination based on differences of race, colour or creed, maintain and strengthen personal liberty, contribute to the enrichment of life for all, and provide a powerful influence for peace among nations” (Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles).
For these reasons, as unanimously requested at the annual Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops of Canada, which met toward the end of last month, we ask the Government of Canada to express to the Government of India its grave concern regarding the systematic violence against Catholics and other Christians in certain Indian states, and to suggest strongly that the Government of India properly use its influence and its authority to assist those states to restore order and to protect the legitimate rights and freedoms of Indian Christians.

Furthermore, in response to suggestions which have been received from Catholic Bishops in India, we also ask the Government of Canada to examine whether funding from Canada is going to organizations in India which may be encouraging such violence, contrary to Canadian law. This concern is also one which is being raised by Indian Christians and members of other faiths as well as by Indian media.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, in bringing these concerns to the attention of the Government of India and also to the members of your Cabinet.



+ V.  James Weisgerber
Archbishop of Winnipeg
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops