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MUMBAI, India – A Catholic church compound was vandalized in northern India on Dec. 26, resulting in the destruction of a statue of Jesus Christ.
The incident happened at 19th century Holy Redeemer Church in Ambala, a city in the state of Haryana, which in near the national capital, Delhi. Christians only make up 0.2 percent of the state, compared to 2.3 percent of the national population.
The church had been closed early on Christmas Day due to COVID-19 restrictions in the state. Overnight, two youths climbed the walls of the church compound and vandalized the life size statue of Christ, damaged the lighting inside of the compound, and then fled.
Bishop Ignatius Loyola Mascarenhas of Shimla–Chandigarh said he was “pained and anguished” over the vandalism of the church.
“On Christmas Day, thousands of people of other faiths come to visit the crib in this Holy Redeemer Church. The Church closes at 10:30 pm, because of the 11 pm curfew,” he explained to Crux. “This incident took place on the intervening night of Christmas day and December 26 between 1:40 am and the wee hours of the morning.”
The bishop said he was personally “deeply hurt” when he saw the damage to the statue.
“I was very emotional and had to control my tears. My parents were married in this very same Holy Redeemer church in 1948 and my sister was baptized in this church. The Redemptorists priests are very good priests. It was not a good surprise to see the statue smashed on the ground,” Mascarenhas said.
Redemptorist Father Ivel Mendanha, the superior of the order’s Majella province, noted the Holy Redeemer Church is “one of our earliest foundations.”
The church was built in 1843, during the British colonial period.
“In this season of love and light we Redemptorists as witnesses of the Redeemer to a wounded world feel wounded ourselves with the vandalism of the statue of the Redeemer in our Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in Ambala,” he told Crux.
“However, as witnesses of the Redeemer we do not give in to violence but will continue in the Spirit of love and light to offer forgiveness and so strive to build bridges and share the redeeming love of the Redeemer Our Lord Jesus despite our own woundedness. Our general chapter theme is witnesses of the Redeemer in solidarity for mission to a wounded world,” the priest continued.
The crime has been reported to the authorities, and the local police say they are examining CCTV footage to identify the culprits.
“I met the police officers and assured me that they are doing their best. They have formed three teams to investigate,” Mascarenhas said.
The bishop told Crux he presided over a reparation service on the afternoon of Dec. 26.
“[I] told our people, Christ was born in a manger, placed on a wooden crib, and then Crucified on a wooden cross on Calvary, so the Birth of the Prince of Peace, already had the shadows of His Crucifixion. This Octave of Christmas is one of martyrdom, the day after Christmas is the Feast of St Stephen the first Martyr, and [Dec.27] is St John who was put in a boiling cauldron of oil and [Dec. 28] the Feast of the Holy Innocents,” he said.
“There are the signs of suffering already at the birth of Christ and we have witnessed the same at Holy Redeemer Church, Ambala: Suffering at the broken statue at Holy Redeemer Church on the dawn after Christmas Day,” he added.
“Jesus last words were ‘Father forgive them’: So too, we forgive. It pains us that someone can do this,” said Mascarenhas.