Saturday, November 29, 2008

Build bridges: Mumbai bishop responds to terror

Indian bishops and Pope Benedict have condemned Mumbai terrorist attacks that have killed over 125 people with local auxiliary Bishop Bosca Penha calling on Catholics "to go on their knees to pray and build bridges among religions."

"We condemn this dastardly act of terrorism," Auxiliary Bishop Bosco Penha of Bombay told UCA News.

He appealed to people of all religions to pray, forgive, reconcile and unite as children of God in these traumatic times. He also directed parishes to pray during every Mass for peace and religious harmony in the city.

Every Catholic, he said, should "go on their knees to pray and get involved in building bridges among people of all religions. We need to innovate ourselves to spread peace, harmony and brotherhood in the city."

Bishop Penha is currently in charge of Bombay archdiocese while its head, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, is recuperating from cancer surgery.

"The unprecedented ferocity of the terror attack" shocked local Church leaders, Bishop Penha admitted. He said he has talked to Cardinal Gracias about the Catholic Church taking more "responsibility" to do "something solid in Mumbai."

Teams of terrorists armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked 11 locations in Mumbai beginning around 9.30pm on November 26.

Most of the sites targeted were in the main tourist and business district, including the city's main commuter train station, a hospital and two luxury hotels, where gunmen held dozens of hostages. Officials said at least eight militants and 11 policemen had been killed. Media reports now put the death toll from the attacks at 125 and the number of people wounded at 314.

Several targeted buildings are near the Catholic archbishop's residence and Jesuit managed St Xavier's College.

Archdiocesan spokesperson Fr Anthony Charanghat, who lives at the archbishop's house, told UCA News he heard gunfire and grenades explode and knew "sometime terrible was happening."

He said the attacks began at a popular seafood restaurant where young gunmen moved in cars and opened fire and exploded three grenades "killing anybody in site." They then proceeded to a busy train station and a cinema house. The administration has imposed curfew in the area, Fr Charanghat reported.

The attacks have frightened people of all religions, according to Dolphy D'Souza, president of Bombay Catholic Sabha (council). "Words don't come so easily to express anything except that fear is writ large on the face of this city," he told UCA News.

Abraham Mathai, a Protestant and vice president of the local Maharashtra State Minority Commission, reported that he toured targeted sites until 4am. Young people who could easily pass as college students spread the terror and panic in the city, he said.

"The terror attacks have shaken the Church in the city," added Joseph Dias, general secretary of Mumbai based Catholic Secular Forum. The Catholic Church should take a proactive role to broker peace and harmony, Dias told UCA News, saying his group will try to reach out to the bereaved families and expose the terrorists' machinations to disturb peace in the country.

Michael Pinto, vice chairman of the National Commission for Minorities and parishioner of the Cathedral of the Holy Name in Mumbai, says the latest terrorist attacks were planned to project India as an unsafe destination and hurt its economy.

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(Source: CTHN)