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Vandalism aimed at several Catholic churches in Delhi has India's small Christian community on edge. Delhi's archbishop calls it a hate campaign intended to create fear and tension. From New Delhi, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports on the latest break-in, which occurred yesterday.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Father Vincent Salvatore, the parish priest of Saint Alphonsa Church, stands in the sacristy he says had been rummaged through, but not robbed. He says the main purpose was to vandalize the church.
VINCENT SALVATORE: If they were interested in stealing, they would have ransacked the whole thing - what's called a bag-and-go. It is not a theft.
MCCARTHY: He's sweeps his arms across a cupboard with shelves of gold-plated chalices - all untouched, as were collection boxes filled with cash. He says an aide preparing for early mass discovered the wafers used in communion, which are considered sacred, scattered beneath the tabernacle that had been flung open. The only missing items were vessels used to preserve the Eucharist.
Police took the priest's statement, and he says he had to challenge their interpretation that it was simply theft. The chancellor of the Catholic Archdiocese of Delhi, Father Mathew Koyickal, insisted it was desecration and urged the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak up.
MATHEW KOYICKAL: You know, he's our prime minister. We respect him. We honor him. But at the same time, you know, it is a matter of anguish and anxiety that he is not saying anything about, you know, such attacks on us. You know, that, you know, creates a kind of worry in us.
MCCARTHY: Delhi's Archbishop blamed the government for failing to protect religious minorities. The church is named for the first Indian to be declared a saint, Saint Alphonsa, [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio version of this story, we incorrectly said that St. Alphonsa was the first Indian to be declared a saint. In fact, she was the first woman of Indian origin to be declared a saint.] a nun who was canonized in 2008. The past two months have seen incidents at other churches in Delhi, beginning with Saint Sebastian's, which was gutted in a fire December 1.
Members of the Christian community say they suspect ultra-conservative Hindus determined to elevate Hinduism at the expense of other faiths. Civil liberties activist Gautam Navlakha says such forces have been emboldened since the election last year of Narendra Modi, a self-declared Hindu nationalist. Navlakha's group, the People's Union for Democratic Rights, has studied recent harassment of religious minorities, and he says their very presence offends Hindu fundamentalists.
GAUTAM NAVLAKHA: The presence of minorities itself is seen as coming in the way of imposing a vision of India that India is a Hindu nation.
MCCARTHY: Navlakha says Hindu extremists hold a special animus for Christians and Muslims, who he says are viewed as outsiders.
NAVLAKHA: It's a very racist notion which is abhorrent to the very idea which our freedom movement spoke of and we gave to ourselves through our Constitution in 1950.
MCCARTHY: The incident Monday comes one week after President Barack Obama urged Indians in a speech to the nation in a visit here to safeguard the freedom to practice their religion. Some derided the speech as patronizing. Others praised Obama for giving voice to an issue that has not been joined by the Indian leadership. Standing in the vandalized church yesterday, K.J. Alphons, a Catholic and member of Modi's ruling party, said Modi has demonstrated that he will not tolerate extremism.
K.J. ALPHONS: There's a fringe element which is making some noises. And that fringe element is there in every community around the whole world, and I don't think we need to worry about that.
MCCARTHY: The vandalized church lies amid spacious farm houses protected with surveillance cameras. The police are now scouring for clues. India's home minister, meanwhile, has demanded a full report from police. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi.
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