Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mumbai Blasts - Church Appeals For Peace

Church People Appeal For Peace As Blasts Rock India's Largest City

July 12, 2006

NEW DELHI (UCAN) -- Church leaders in India joined people across the world in condemning the July 11 bomb blasts that claimed many lives in Mumbai, the country's commercial capital.

"I don't know what happened to this city and why it is being targeted. This is a city of dreams and one should not shatter it," Bishop Bosco Penha of Bombay, current administrator of Bombay archdiocese, said while expressing shock at the loss of innocent lives in the blasts.

Bombay is the old name of Mumbai, capital of Maharashtra state, 1,410 kilometers southwest of New Delhi. The archdiocese, the most populous in India, covers the entire city, where a string of explosions created chaos during the evening rush hour. The Press Trust of India news agency said that as of July 12, police were reporting 190 people dead and 625 injured.

The blasts occurred within a span of 20 minutes at the Bandra, Borivili, Jogeshwari, Khar, Mahim, Matunga and Mira Road railway stations on a 60-kilometer western commuter line, the city's lifeline.

As the blasts ripped apart train compartments, mangled bodies of passengers were hurled out and survivors, many of them bleeding profusely, jostled to escape, leading to chaotic scenes.

Shevlin Sebastian, a Catholic journalist, told UCA News he left the Mahim station less than 20 minutes before the blast. He speculated that with train cars carrying the maximum number of passengers during the peak travel time, the number of casualties could exceed what has been reported.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts so far, but police suspect Islamic groups fighting for the independence of Jammu and Kashmir, India's northernmost and only Muslim-majority state, are behind the incident.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) condemned the blasts and appealed for peace and harmony.

"We appeal to all the affected people to maintain calm and equanimity at this hour of sorrow and grief so that the nefarious designs of the antisocial elements can be defeated," CBCI spokesperson Father Babu Joseph said in a press statement.

Bishop Penha commended the people in Mumbai for extending help to the blast victims. Speaking with UCA News July 12, the prelate said he has asked all archdiocesan parishes to put their facilities at the service of the needy. "Each parish, depending upon its geographical area, will do its bit to help in whatever way it can," he added.

In a July 12 appeal addressed to priests in the archdiocese, Bishop Penha called for special prayers July 15 and 16 in all parishes for the blast victims and their families. He also asked the parishes to offer special thanks to the city's transportation services, civic and police departments for their "commendable service to the public" after the blasts.

"They are always at the receiving end of criticism. A little more appreciation and gratitude to these services seems called for. We must also appreciate the numberless 'Good Samaritans,' who reached out to people in need," the statement noted.

Bishop Thomas Dabre of Vasai confirmed that the fatalities included two Catholics from his diocese, which was part of Bombay archdiocese until 1998.

The bishop noted that more than half of Mumbai's 18 million people live in shanties. "If they do not get to work, they lose their wages, which no one who lives hand-to-mouth can afford," he said, adding that "life must go on despite such a mindless and barbaric act."

Rail service reportedly has been fully restored.

The blasts shocked people around the country.

In the eastern state of Bihar, Bishop Victor Henry Thakur of Bettiah has called for special Masses and prayers for the victims and their families.

"It is our Christian duty to pray for the victims of violence anywhere in the world," the prelate told UCA News, noting that thousands of people from Bihar work in Mumbai. "God forbid! Some of the victims could be from our state too. So I am really concerned and shocked," he said.

Lay groups in Mumbai are organizing their members to provide assistance.

Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Catholic Secular Forum, announced that his group "will coordinate with other agencies for relief work" as an initial response. "For the long run, we will come out with a disaster management plan to be prepared for these calamities."

Bombay Catholic Sabha (council) has alerted its members to prepare a list of blood donors, since government hospitals where the victims were admitted have reported inadequate supplies of blood. Council president Dolphy D'Souza has urged the government to shift the wounded from government hospitals to those managed by the Church and other private agencies. "What is important now is to save lives and, to be frank, the ill-equipped government hospitals may just not serve that purpose," he said.

Among other Christian groups in the country that have reacted is the Global Council of Indian Christians, an ecumenical forum. It condemned the "barbaric attacks on the innocent citizens" and urged people to work with "greater determination to isolate the hate mongers" and restore peace in the world.

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