KATHMANDU, Nepal (CNS) — Arsonists attempted to set fire to Assumption Cathedral, the first public Catholic worship place in Hindu-majority Nepal.
Ucanews.com reported that Father Ignatius Rai, pastor of the cathedral parish, said the incident occurred around 3 a.m. April 18 when “unknown persons” broke into the church premises. They started a fire that partially damaged the priest’s residence and the western part of the church. A car and two motorbikes also were burned. No casualties were reported.
“This is shocking. The local Christian community is now living under threat,” Father Rai told ucanews.com.
This is a second time the church has been targeted. A bomb exploded there in 2009, killing three people, including a schoolgirl, and injuring 15. In 2010, Ram Prasad Mainali, chief of the Nepal Defense Army, a little-known Hindu extremist group, was arrested in connection with the incident.
Father Silas Bogati, former parish priest at Assumption Cathedral, told ucanews.com: “We are panicking. Nobody left anything in the church premise this time, so we don’t know whether it was a personal attack or by some disgruntled organization.”
Police are currently investigating the case.
Condemning the attack, the parish released a statement seeking fair investigation.
“The Catholic Church has been involved in social work for half a decade now and will continue with our work despite the frequent attacks,” said the statement, written in Nepali. It added that no one should allow the attack to disrupt religious harmony in the country.
Nepal will hold the first local elections in two decades May 14. The elections are seen as a significant step toward the implementation of a new constitution passed by Nepal’s government in 2015. For the first time, the constitution mandates a restructured, federal and secular republic.
However, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the fourth-largest force in parliament, is campaigning for the reinstatement of a Hindu state in the upcoming polls.
“We are eagerly looking forward to the upcoming local elections in the country, and we are in the process with the government. This incident, if politically motivated will not (harm) the peaceful environment in the country,” said Father Bogati.
Assumption Cathedral, which can seat 1,000 people, incorporates Buddhist and Hindu elements in a pagoda-Gothic style. Nepal’s first public Catholic Church was built after a new constitution promulgated in 1991 gave Nepal’s people the freedom to practice any religion in public, provided there is no attempt to convert others. Prior to that, Catholic services were held only in chapels of Catholic schools, convents and social centers.
The Nepal Catholic Directory counts about 8,000 Catholics in Nepal, mostly in the eastern region where parishes were set up in 1999. Nepal has a population of some 28 million people, 80 percent of whom are Hindus.