By Matters India Reporter
Nagapattinam, May 11, 2019: A church in Tamil Nadu was destroyed in a suspicious arson attack, Matters India learnt on May 11.
According to Shibu Thomas, founder of Persecution Relief, the incident occurred on April 24 at Thittacherry, Nagapattinam.
Member of the “Jesus with us” had gathered in the church for a fasting prayer meeting.
The meeting ended late in the evening and after everybody had left, pastor Sachin Paneerselvam, locked the sanctuary and left for his home, 12 km away.
A few hours after reaching, Paneerselvam and his family were getting ready for bed when he got a call from the local Naneelan station at 11 pm that the church building was on fire.
Thomas, who heads Persecution Relief, an ecumenical church group, said Paneerselvam’s wanted to rush to the church, to help put out the fire and salvage the contents. However, the police were adamant that he should not come to the spot as firefighters were battling the blaze. Police said that they would investigate the cause of the fire to ascertain.
Paneerselvam said that he waited for day break to rush to the church. “But nothing could prepare him for what greeted his eyes,” Thomas said.
The church building was completely gutted. It was made of wooden pillars and reapers that supported thatched roof made of coconut palm fronds.
“The entire church structure was reduced to ashes. Along with the pulpit, musical instrument, microphones, floor mats, Holy Bibles, song books and around 7,000 rupees offering kept in a cupboard, were burnt or robbed,” Paneerselvam said.
“We have no enemies and we are peaceful people. In fact, we had no suspicion that such a thing might happen. I cannot believe that somebody would have done this to us deliberately,” he added.
Paneerselvam built the church around four years ago. The land located in a remote area, was leased from its owners for 1,000 rupees a month. Over 40 local people attended the church regularly.
Paneerselvam and his congregation cleared the damage and debris in two days.
They bought new wooden poles and erected metal sheets on top of them, to make a makeshift shelter, so that they could worship at the same place. They conducted the Sunday worship as scheduled.
“It was such a morale boost to see the community resilient, joining hands and fearlessly gathering to worship, in a time like this,” said Thomas.
Paneerselvam said he has forgiven the persecutors. “I do not know who did this, but my God knows. I will not pursue this matter legally with the police as I have forgiven them, just like Jesus commanded me,” he added.
Persecution Relief has recorded 477 persecution incidents in 2018 of which 67 incidents were recorded in Tamil Nadu– the second hostile state in India after Uttar Pradesh.
At least 20 hate crime incidents have been recorded in Tamil Nadu, in just the first quarter of 2019. Over 10 churches have been targeted by arsonists across India.
“Tamil Nadu is burning and day by day the situation is getting worsened, in the last week’s more than four churches structures have been burned down. The state government and administration at local level are mute spectators. Some pastors did not file a police complaint out fear and back lash,” Thomas said.
Persecutors are just let loose and they walk into church premises during worship services and beat the congregation, threaten the pastor, and molest women. Fear has gripped the believers, Thomas explained.
“We have freedom to even sit at our own private property, house and pray to Jesus, but we are losing our right to do so. Governments have to take strict measures to stop this immediately. Many times police also do accept the formal complaint. It is only after some pressure put on them, they accept the complaint,” he added.