Catholic parishes, religious congregations and institutions in the Indian capital are now engaged in the task of healing the wounds of the people and communities lacerated by the recent communal riots and hatred in Delhi.
Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi on March 2 visited the affected areas and comforted victims and shared his grief with them, Matters India reported.
He was accompanied by Jesuit Father P. R. John, principal of Vidyajyoti College of Theology, and Presentation Sister Shalini Mulackal, former president of the Indian Theological Institution and a professor in the college.
According to media reports, the three days of violence, which erupted on Feb. 23, has claimed nearly 50 lives, injured hundreds of people and destroyed extensive properties.
Riots broke out as supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) clashed with its opponents.
The government’s CAA, passed on Dec. 11 last year, allows minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who settled in India prior to 2015 to obtain Indian citizenship but excludes Muslims, which critics and rights activists say is discriminatory.
Coupled with the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), Muslims fear the moves are intended to strip millions of their community members of citizenship. People from other disadvantaged caste and gender identities, as well as women, fear they are vulnerable to the NRC.
It is believed to be the deadliest violence in the city since the 1992 nationwide riots following the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, and possibly since the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 after the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Soul of a nation torn apart
Archbishop Couto said all affected people have taken shelter at a place of worship and different groups are trying to help people with medical care, counselling and classes to students.
The deserted streets bore tell-tale signs of massive destruction and violence fuelled by hatred, the archbishop noted. “Our hearts were filled with deep sadness and anguish at what we saw and heard. The soul of our nation has been torn apart and with such brutality.”
He also said the Catholic parishes and institutions had already swung into action before his visit.
“We are mobilizing resources to help the affected people in the best way possible,” Archbishop Couto said. The Catholic Holy Family Hospital, he said, is using two ambulances and has engaged a couple of doctors and several nurses to provide first aid to the affected people. “We will lend our support to all efforts for the rehabilitation of the displaced people,” he added. Particular attention is being given to the neediest, including their rehabilitation.
A group of Delhi Archdiocese officials, nuns and priests are meeting the affected people and listening to their stories of violence and torture.
Interfaith call for harmony
“We should raise our voices against those who caused communal riots, destroying the lives of the poor in miserable conditions and I strongly feel that we should strive to get government help for these people,” said Archbishop Couto, who had earlier appealed to the Catholic parishes and institutions of his archdiocese to open their doors to the victims.
“At this trying moment when communal riots have suddenly gripped Delhi, let us come forward with our prayers and every possible effort to bring relief to the affected people in terms of shelter, food and clothing,” the archbishop said in a February 26, Ash Wednesday, appeal. “If need be by even opening up our church premises for this noble cause in the Lenten season,” he said.
That day, spiritual leaders of various religions also gathered in front of the Sacred Heart Cathedral against violence and hatred. Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Jain representatives appealed "for peace and non-violence" and to "follow the path of mutual love".
"Peace must prevail, as well as unity and harmony,” Archbishop Couto urged. “We must emphasize the brotherhood that exists between us. Religion must not divide society, but must unite us with one another.” (Source: Matters India)