MUMBAI, India – A Catholic priest in India has issued an official complaint to the police after a group of Hindus held a religious ceremony called a Pooja in front of a Catholic chapel.

The incident took place at  on Dec. 30 in Sancoale, Goa, in the southwest of India.

Goa – a former Portuguese colony which was annexed by India in 1961 – is considered a center of Latin Rite Catholicism in the country, and Christians make up about a quarter of the population in the state, compared to less than 3 percent for India as a whole.

Father Luis Alvares, the pastor of the Sancoale parish, told Crux around 25 people began performing the Hindu Pooja in front of the façade of the parish’s original church — Our Lady of Good Health, now often referred to as the Old Church — which now sits in front of a chapel which still holds Mass on Sundays.

“This is a heritage and religious site, we called the police, who requested them to move to another place for Pooja. We have made a police complaint the same day, but no First Information Report [the FIR is the first step of a criminal investigation in India] has been registered to date,” Alvares said.

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The incident came as the Church in Goa was preparing for the Feast of St. Joseph Vaz, the patron saint of Goa whose father came from Sancoale.

“Currently, novenas are being held here in preparation for the Feast of St Joseph Vaz. Additionally, the All-Goa walking pilgrimage concludes here at the Old Church. The new church is in the parish itself. Prior to COVID-19 pandemic, devotees from all over India and Sri Lanka [where Vaz served as a missionary] visit this church during the novenas,” the priest said.

In a written complaint to the police, Alvares noted that the property around the façade o the Old Church is owned by the Sancoale parish and has been declared a “protected monument” by the Directorate of Archives and Archeology of the state of Goa.

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“The Archdiocese of Goa has been celebrating the annual novena and feast of St. Joseph Vaz, near the frontpiece. There also exists a Chapel of Our Lady of Health in the said property wherein Catholic religious ceremonies like the holy Mass, litanies and rosaries take place on a regular basis. ‘Walking Pilgrimage or Bhavartachi Yatra’ is an annual pilgrimage undertaken by thousands of faithful from all over Goa and beyond in the Lenten season of the Catholic calendar, to the frontpiece of the old church of Sancoale,” the complaint says.

The priest requested the local officials to take immediate notice of the offences and register an FIR, in addition to taking steps to prevent any further damage and communal violence.

Alvares held a demonstration in front of the Old Church façade on Jan 3.

“Nearly two thousand people participated – with masks and maintaining social distancing. Parishioners were requested to respect the harmony and promote peace, as Goa has been known for being a peaceful place where people of various communities live in unity and peace,” he told Crux.

In 2012, the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power in Goa, replacing the secular Congress Party, which was hit with a series of corruption scandals. Two years later, in 2014, the party took over the national government.

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The BJP has strong links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist organization.

However, the party is more solicitous of religious minorities in Goa than nationally. Some of the BJP members of Goa’s legislative assembly are Catholic.

Still, Church leaders have complained of heightening intercommunal tensions since the party took over in the state.