Indian Catholics march against church worker murder

Thousands of Catholics rallied in Chennai, India on Sunday in a call for a fair investigation into the murder of a church worker allegedly killed by a right-wing Hindu activist.

UCA News reports that the 5,000 protesters wearing black ribbons and carrying black flags and banners marched in front of St Thomas Mount Shrine in Chennai, formerly known as Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu state, to denounce the murder of Jacob Fernandez, 58, manager of the shrine's bookstore.

Salesian Archbishop Malayappan Chinnappa of Madras-Mylapore and Bishop Anthony Neethinathan of Chingleput led the march.

In a joint statement the prelates said the killing pained Christians, and they urged the government to ensure protection for Christian institutions.

The protesters condemned religious fundamentalism and prayed for religious harmony before climbing the hill where the shrine is located. "We are deeply shocked by this murder," said Femina Fernando, one of the marchers.

Fr Vincent Chinnadurai, chairperson of Tamil Nadu state's Minority Commission, told UCA News, "The march was organised to condemn religious fundamentalism and to demand a fair investigation."

"We suspect a sinister plan, and we demand that the police arrest the group behind the incident," Fr Chinnadurai said. He added that the attack does not appear to be an isolated incident.

Fernandez was hacked to death with a machete on the evening of 26 November in front of a crowd.

Lilly Mary, who works at the bookstore and was an eyewitness to the killing, told UCA News that the assailant, identified as Ramesh Babu, 37, told Fernandez that Catholics must leave the hill because it belongs to Hindus.

Fr Damien Anand, assistant parish priest of the shrine, added that it came to light, after the incident, that Babu had met Fernandez many times earlier and made this same demand.

According to Church officials, St Thomas Mount belongs to Catholics historically and legally. Locally it is called Parangi Malai, (white man's hill). Parangi is a derogatory term for "white man."

Mary said that when Fernandez told Babu to see the parish priest, the man brandished the machete and hacked Fernandez continuously in front of a shocked crowd of more than 100 people, including foreign tourists.

After killing Fernandez, Babu smeared some of the blood on his forehead. He then entered the shrine and broke the statues of Saint Joseph and Saint Francis of Assisi, narrated a shocked Mary.

Police, who arrested the assailant the next day, initially claimed he was in a mentally "unstable state" and that there was no motive for the murder.

However, Church officials dismiss this claim. "How can a person who runs a website be mentally unsound?" Fr Chinnadurai asked. Babu reportedly ran a website, www.meineri.org. Meineri means "true faith" in the Tamil language.

He knew what he was doing and he is part of a larger plan to attack Christians, Fr Chinnadurai insisted.

Local media reported that Babu had placed an advertisement in a local newspaper to recruit volunteers for his right-wing Hindu movement some two weeks before the incident.

Catholics Condemn Murder Of Church Worker, Demand Fair Investigation (UCA News, 13/12/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
St Thomas Mount, Chennai (Wikipedia)

14 Dec 2006