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Delhi church reduced to ashes; Christian community terms it as deliberate act

It was a "horrific, painful and emotional moment” for around 600 Christain families in Dilshad Garden of Northeast Delhi as they watched the decade-old St Sebastian's church being reduced to ashes on Monday morning.

Fr Stanley Kozhichira, media director of Delhi archdiocese, alleges that “it was not an accident but a deliberate act” because kerosene bottles were found in the sanctuary area. It was a “well-designed conspiracy hatched by anti-social groups to snatch the fundamental right of worship”.

“It was a horrific and an extremely painful and emotional moment when I saw the charred church. It was like we are standing before a funeral pyre of our father. The entire interior, including the altar, sanctuary and the Holy Cross and Bible were reduced to ashes,” he told Firstpost while expressing his desolation at the extent of the damage.

 Delhi church reduced to ashes; Christian community terms it as deliberate act

The charred remains of the Church in Northeast Delhi. Credit/Tarique Anwar

The parishioner argued that this is not an isolated case of “religious intolerance”.

Narrating the series of incidents, parish priest Fr Anthony Francis said, “I was informed about the incident by the night watchman. I came here and dialled the police and fire department. Fire fighters arrived here soon after I called at 7:10 am. But the police reached at around 7:30 am.”

“It is desecration of our religious place as well as our faith. The church has been damaged so badly that it needs to be rebuilt to be ready for prayers once again,” said the upset priest.

He did not blame any group for the fire, but he also did not rule out a conspiracy theory.

“We are sure that this was arson, not an accident caused by the short circuit as the police were initially claiming. It is up to police to launch a fair and unbiased probe and come clean on the involvement of the culprits,” he said. Appealing people to maintain restrain, he said, “I urge believers not to indulge in any sort of violence and preserve the secular fabric of the country.”

Condemning the incident, Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto said the act is an expression of “hate against the community”.
“Such incidents are happing in the national capital and government needs to take the issue with extreme urgency as the city is yet to fully recover from a series of communal incidents. A level of intolerance is developing and this is only getting worse,” he said. Delhi has recently witnessed several incidents of riots on a low scale.

The archbishop has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh urging them to order a judicial inquiry into the incident. “The government must repair the building before Christmas,” Archbishop Couto demanded adding that “also distressing is the sense of police indifference. Long hours were lost and possible evidence destroyed before the police finally came”.

When the news of fire in church spread, members of the Christian community held a protest demonstration outside the police station concerned to press the officers to call in forensic experts. When the police failed to come, roads were blocked for sometime.

On the complaint of parish priest Fr Francis, the police have lodged a case of arson under section 436 of the IPC. “We have already registered a case and started investigation. Forensic team has retrieved samples from inside the church. Few kerosene bottles have been found from the spot and there was smell of fuel oil. Therefore, we are not ruling out the possibility that the act was deliberate,” Northeast District Additional DCP RS Sagar told Firstpost.

But, he said, in addition to “arson”, the police are also focussing on the possibility of a short circuit as the cause of fire. “The actual cause of the incident can only be ascertained after receiving a report from the fire department,” said the officer.

Cutting across denominations, the Christian community and civil society have decided to protest at the offices of the Police Commissioner of Delhi on Tuesday morning to focus attention on the attempts to polarise the people in Delhi State, which goes to the polls soon, and the continued persecution of Christians in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and other tribal and rural areas,’’ added the release issued by the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese.

St. Sebastian’s Church was constructed in 2001 and is among the biggest churches in East Delhi. The church was active till Sunday night because of religious ceremonies for Catholic children receiving their first Holy Communion.

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Updated Date: Dec 02, 2014 17:03:20 IST