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Returning from a mission, Fr Thomas Pandippally, C.M.I.,
was brutally murdered by Hindu extremists who broke
his hands and legs, tore out his eyes, beat him with sticks
and stabbed him repeatedly, 16 August.
A large crowd of deeply moved Religious and lay faithful participated in a memorial concelebration on August 21, at St Mary’s of Hyderabad for Fr. Thomas Pandippally, C.M.I., who was brutally murdered, August 16, on his way back from a Burgida mission by a group of Hindu extremists who are yet to be identified.
Fr. Jose Panthaplamthottiyil, Prior General of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, Fr. Thomas’ Order, celebrated the funeral on August 20, at the Provincial House at Bellampally, where he was buried.
Fr. Jose told a UCA News (Union of Catholic Asian News) correspondent that “Fr. Thomas was a priest fully devoted to his mission, always on the front lines in his work to help his neighbor. His assassins have caused deep disturbance for me and for all members of this religious Order.”
A statement by the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC), made the day after the murder, expressed “astonishment and anguish” over “the brutal homicide” of Fr. Thomas, who “dedicated his life to help other people”. The KCBC also asked the government to protect missionaries who work for the “marginalized and poor of the country”.
The same statement appealed to the authorities of the State of Andhra Pradesh to ask that the assassins of Fr. Thomas be identified and brought to justice as soon as possible. Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, S.V.D., of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar in Orissa, said that the authorities did not pursue the perpetrators of violence at Christmas 2007, when thousands of Hindu extremists broke out into a “hunt of Christians” in several villages in a systematic, organized manner, destroying and burning churches and Christian homes, murdering them and forcing them to flee for weeks into the forest. “The guilty are free and proud of their impunity”, said the Archbishop.
To shed light on the motives behind and context of Fr. Thomas’ assassination, Archbishop Joji Marampudi of Hyderabad, Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Andhra Pradesh granted an interview to L’Osservatore Romano journalist, Roberto Sgaramella which was published August 20. An English translation follows.
“They killed Fr. Thomas for three reasons: because he was a religious, because he was Christian and because he was charitable to the poor.
“His attackers were waiting for him on his way home from one of our missions in Burgida”, the Prelate continued. “He was probably waylaid at about 10:00 o’clock in the evening, not far from the village of Bellampally, an area unfortunately known for acts of violence perpetrated there by groups of Hindu fanatics.
“They stopped him while he was returning on his motorcycle and clubbed him with sticks. They then ferociously slashed his body with knives. I myself went there the following morning and saw his blood mingled with the dust, I saw the mess they had made of his body.”
We asked Archbishop Marampudi the reason for this violence against a Catholic religious. “He was killed because Catholic missionaries take the side of the poor in this region where, in fact, a rigid form of slavery still exists, linked to farming the land.
“The landowners do not recognize that the peasants have any rights and use bands of Hindu fanatics to thwart anyone who attempts to improve the standard of living of the rural population.
“In this region fanaticism of a Hindu background uses religion solely as a pretext to carry out heinous crimes. There is no conflict between us Catholics and moderate Hindu religious when the dialogue concerns spiritual values. Disputes are sparked by those who make use of pseudo-religious pretexts to serve their own interests.”
A woman prays on the tomb of
Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Archbishop Marampudi said he was very worried by the violent atmosphere that has wilfully been created in recent years in several rural zones of Andhra Pradesh by fundamentalist Hindu groups.
“The killing of Fr. Thomas was an act of hatred against the Catholic Church in particular but also against all Christians who live in this region”, the Archbishop declared.
Four pastors of various Protestant churches were killed in Andhra Pradesh during 2006 and 2007. Several of these murders were carried out in similar circumstances to those of Fr. Thomas’ assassination. None of the perpetrators of these crimes has yet been identified subsequent to investigations made by the local police.
No tribunal in Andhra Pradesh has ever met to judge the perpetrators or instigators of these ferocious crimes although the names of the local Hindu extremist chiefs are certainly public knowledge.
We asked Archbishop Marampudi if the police authorities had provided any system of protection for those who are constantly threatened by fanatics.
“We Catholic religious have no preventive protection”, the Archbishop answered. “However, I am not so worried about my own physical safety. On the other hand, I would like to call the authorities’ attention to our men and women missionaries.
“Various groups of Sisters work constantly for the needy in relatively isolated localities where there are absolutely no policemen. They work at a serious risk to themselves. They work for children and the elderly. They help mothers and the sick. They organize classes for illiterate youth. They work trusting in God's protection alone.
“They do their utmost to help their neighbor and thereby bear witness to the Gospel. I am thinking of these absolutely heroic missionary Sisters. I am thinking of the missionary priests who never fail to go to the help of the lowly such as, precisely, Fr. Thomas.
“I am thinking of our little church of Hyderabad. It is a small church because of the number of the faithful but certainly large from the point of view of their heroism — heroism because of their constant witness to faith in God and in the Gospel.”