Priest in Chhattisgarh state is held at gunpoint by armed robbers who escaped with cash
Archbishop Victor Henry Thakur of Raipur. (Photo: UCA News)
A Catholic prelate in a central Indian state has released safety guidelines to be strictly followed by all religious houses and institutions after a priest was robbed at gunpoint in the latest spate of incidents targeting Church institutions in the area.
Archbishop Victor Henry Thakur of Raipur in his June 19 letter urged priests, nuns and lay people to “be vigilant, particularly in the present situation of hate campaigns, and keep access doors and gates secure during the day and night.”
The guidelines came a day after Father Varghese Thekkekut, the priest of St. Theresa of Avilao parish in the town of Bagbahra, in Chhattisgarh state, was robbed of 120,000 rupees ($1,464) by armed men.
“We are deeply pained at the sad and shocking incident on Sunday … but we are only consoled that no physical harm has been done to him,” Thakur told UCA News on June 21.
The prelate’s letter suggested the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and the formation of neighborhood watch teams as a precaution, besides alerting the police urgently in case of any unfortunate event.
“Do not destroy any evidence, rather seal the place of the incident … Refrain from opening doors at night, especially when there are unexpected visitors and strangers. If you notice any suspicious person in and around campus, immediately inform the local police and contact the parishioners,” the letter added.
"It is a dangerous trend and we have to be vigilant"
Thakur said the incident in Bagbahra was not an isolated one and he was deeply concerned for the safety of priests and religious working in the archdiocese, especially in remote locations.
Local media reports said six masked men broke into Amlikhaman parish church in Sambalpur diocese in neighboring Odisha state and threatened five priests and a layman while they were sleeping in the presbytery on June 1.
Father Sushil Kerketta, the parish priest, sustained head injuries when the armed men attacked him before escaping with around 600,000 rupees.
Similar incidents were reported in Kahuchuan and Deorapada parishes in Rourkela diocese bordering Sambalpur diocese.
Thakur said what is worrying is that these kinds of incidents were never reported earlier.
“Yes we use to hear about looting in the temples, but now even churches are being targeted. It is a dangerous trend and we have to be vigilant,” he added.
The prelate said a police team investigating the Bagbahra incident has some clues about the robbers from CCTV camera footage collected from locals.
Media reports suggested three masked men entered the St. Theresa of Avila parish church around 11.30 am on June 18 while Thekkekut was reading a newspaper after Sunday Mass. They held the 69-year-old parish priest at gunpoint and stole the cash kept inside a cupboard. The men tied the priest’s hands and feet and locked him inside a room before escaping.
Garima Dadar, a deputy superintendent of police, told reporters that investigations were underway based on footage obtained from CCTV cameras and other clues.
The incident has also raised safety concerns among the town’s 20,000 people, the majority of them Hindus, media reports said.
More than 98 percent of Chhattisgarh’s 23 million people are Hindus. Muslims account for 1 percent while Christians, mostly tribal people, account for just 0.7 percent of its population.
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