MUMBAI, India – A decision by local authorities to destroy part of a Catholic cathedral as part of a road-widening project have stirred resistance from clergy and laity alike, against the backdrop of Christian perceptions of hostility from the country’s Hindu-dominated government.
In Vijayawada, located in the south Indian State of Andhra Pradesh, the city’s Municipal Corporation approved demolishing a portion of the Roman Catholic St. Peter’s Cathedral as part of a broader program of civic improvement.
Hundreds of Catholics, supported by opposition parties, staged a protest at the church on Monday morning even as staff returned to the site to complete the demolition process. They complained that local officials had failed to serve notice to church authorities before embarking on pulling down the structure that is more than 100 years old, the Times of India reported.
Despite the protest, officials and workers came with equipment and demolished a wall and a group of buildings adjacent to the church. Catholics opposed to the move argued that the route should be changed due to the historical significance of a church built in the mid-19th century.
One member of St. Peter’s congregation said “taking the shrine’s history and prominence into consideration, officials should leave the structure untouched. They carried out the demolition without informing the church authorities or serving a notice.”
Activists Shaik Asif and Bolla Vijay Kumar demanded an explanation from the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation for taking up the exercise without even informing the church authorities, or trying to find a compromise solution.
Bishop Joseph Raja Rao of the Diocese of Vijayawada told Crux, “The compound wall of the Cathedral of St. Peter’s was demolished and also the Grotto inside the compound, for extension of the road.”
“There was neither transparency in the undertaking to widen the road, nor was any compensation given, nor was any security provided,” he said.
Rao went on to suggest that more outrageous was the middle of the night tactics. “Moreover, despite peaceful protest from the Catholic Community, the demolishing was done on the intervening night at around 1:30 am. This is shameful and is totally wrong and has hurt our religious sentiments.”
The police took a few agitators into custody only to release them later. A police picket has been arranged at the church.