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MUMBAI – A Catholic archbishop in western India has written to civil authorities to demand “immediate and stringent action” against a right-wing Hindu group deemed responsible for a viral video insulting the pope, priests and nuns, and to demand greater protection for the state’s Christian minority.
In the video, which was recorded March 19 and quickly became popular on social media platforms, an unidentified speaker from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (“World Hindu Council”) organization can be heard asserting that when Catholic nuns take vows, they become “married” to the pope. The speaker then asks the crowd who’s committing adultery, the pope or the Hindu Lord Krishna, with the crowd shouting “pope!”
“It is said that one who commit adultery has no right to live on earth,” the speaker says. “How long will you tolerate this?”
“That’s why all Fathers, Brothers, Mother, Nun, Sister, Pope … So, second agenda is to remove Christians,” the speaker says, apparently in reference to a nearby Catholic pilgrimage center called Unteshwari Mata Mandir in Kadi village.
The speaker calls for “dagalawala,” meaning priests in cassocks, to be driven away.
Archbishop Thomas Ignatius Macwan of Gandhingar, located in the western Indian state of Gujarat, wrote that Catholics have been “very hurt and disturbed” by the “obnoxious and shameful” language in the video.
Macwan made the comments in a letter to Shri Bhupendrabhai Patel, the chief executive of Gujarat state. It’s a position once held by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for whom right-wing Indian national movements are an important part of his electoral base.
The speaker in the video, Macwan wrote, “cast aspersions on the integrity of the nuns and priests who have been doing yeoman service to humanity irrespective of caste, creed or religion,” saying their service consists of “acts of mercy and not acts to be condemned.”
Macwan urged Gujarat authorities to arrest the authors of the video and charge them with engaging in hate speech.
The video, Macwan argues, is part of a deteriorating situation for Christians in Gujarat.
“The Christian community in the State of Gujarat is feeling extremely insecure due to the ever growing cases of attacks, violence, physical intimidation and vitriolic hate speeches against our community and its personnel by a number of communal outfits and anti-social elements,” he wrote.
“This is done systematically, consciously and deliberately, with the tacit support of their local political bosses and their ideologues,” the 70-year-old prelate wrote.
“Being a miniscule minority community, we have become soft-targets to these fringe groups,” he said.
Despite the pressures, Macwan insisted that “the large majority of our Hindu brethren are overwhelmingly appreciative and supportive of the church’s work in the field of education, health-care and social service.”
“They have been appreciative of the Christian community’s contributions during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, natural and man-made disasters,” he wrote.
“Please take stringent action against the culprits and give us protection!” Macwan urged.
Macwan long has been critical of the militant wing of India’s Hindu nationalist movements. During 2017 elections in Gujarat, he issued a pastoral letter appealing for “humane leaders” to “save” the country “from nationalist forces.”
The retreat center targeted in the video, Unteshwari Mata Mandir, was built in 1969 and dedicated to Mary the Mother of God. It became a parish with a resident priest in 1986, serving close to 20 small villages in the area with a handful of Catholic families in each.