THRISSUR, India — Syro-Malabar Bishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of Faridabad, India, urged India’s prime minister to facilitate rebuilding of a church demolished by local government officials in the Indian capital of New Delhi.
“We … request your immediate intervention in this serious matter … to rebuild and restitute (sic) the damage done to the believers and their place of worship,” Bharanikulangara wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi July 13.
The appeal follows the demolition of the Little Flower Church in south New Delhi early July 12 by officials of the Delhi Municipal Corporation. Witnesses said more than 100 police officers escorted the demolition crew and bulldozers to the church site.
“We are shocked by this brazen church demolition. There was no provocation or reason for this church demolition,” Bharanikulangara told Catholic News Service July 13.
The prelate, a former Vatican diplomat, visited the site earlier July 13. He explained that the land where the church is located was donated in 2006 by a Catholic who had owned it since 1990.
“We built a temporary (church) structure on the land and we have been using it for regular worship for over 12 years. The parish have been paying property tax, water and electricity bills,” the bishop said.
Government officials were unavailable for comment.
Catholic bishops in northeastern India July 13 joined together in condemning the demolition.
Archbishop John Moolachira of Guwahati, president of North East India Regional Bishops’ Council, called the demolition “shocking and sad news,” reported India Matters.
The church’s destruction “has hurt the religious sentiment of the peace-loving Christian community” throughout India, he said.
The archbishop questioned local political officials’ sudden step to destroy the church, saying church leaders should have been given time to “take legal recourse.”
“Such a hurried action has not only has hurt the religious sentiments of the people but also betrays a hidden agenda of the local administration,” he said.
India Matters also reported that the Faridabad Diocese July 13 began legal action in response to the demolition.
Narrating the sequence of the demolition, Father Jose Kannumkuzhy, Little Flower pastor, told CNS that late July 9, “an evacuation notice was given … to our security guard without any proper communication.”
“I checked with the lawyer and he said it is not even addressed to anyone and there is a stay order from the National Human Rights Commission that this place of worship should not be demolished,” he said.
“Shockingly, a few people came Monday (July 12) morning, assured me, ‘We will not touch the church.’ When I tried to call others, they pushed me out and did not allow me to enter the compound to remove the tabernacle or holy items from the church,” Kannumkuzhy said.
“The police barricaded the whole area and prevented our people from coming near to protest. This is shocking,” added Kannumkuzhy, who leads the parish with 600 families and more than 2,500 members.
Bharanikulangara said in his message to Modi that church leaders were denied an opportunity to respond to the evacuation order.
“With scant respect to the religious sacred place,” he wrote, “they devastated, vandalized and desecrated everything and razed the church within hours.”