Pope condemns Mumbai terrorist attacks

By  John Thavis, Catholic News Service
  • December 2, 2008
{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI condemned the wave of terrorist attacks in India as acts of "cruel and senseless violence," and led prayers for the nearly 200 people who died and the hundreds injured in the bloodshed.

A Vatican spokesman, meanwhile, warned that if extremists continue to exploit the ethnic and religious tensions of southern Asia the results could be even more tragic.
Speaking at his noon blessing Nov. 30, the Pope asked for prayers for the victims of the attacks in Mumbai, the Indian financial capital, where suspected Islamic militants assaulted at least 10 targets in a three-day siege that began Nov. 26.

The Pope also expressed concern for the clashes between rival ethnic and religious groups in Jos, Nigeria, where at least 200 people were killed Nov. 28-29. Churches and mosques were burned in the rioting.

"The causes and circumstances of these tragic events are different, but there should be a common sense of horror and condemnation for the explosion of such cruel and senseless violence," the Pope told pilgrims from his apartment window overlooking St. Peter's Square.

"Let us ask the Lord to touch the hearts of those who delude themselves by thinking that this is the way to resolve local or international problems."

The morning after gunmen attacked the targets in Mumbai, including the luxury Taj Mahal hotel, the Pope deplored the brutality of the violence in a telegram sent to Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai. The papal telegram appealed "for an end to all acts of terrorism, which gravely offend the human family and severely destabilize the peace and solidarity needed to build a civilization worthy of mankind's noble vocation to love God and neighbour."

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said the well-co-ordinated attacks were reminiscent of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist acts against U.S. targets. In a commentary on Vatican Radio, Lombardi said the terrorists had clearly chosen India, a place of tensions and conflicts, as a "critical point at which to try to ignite an even more frightening conflagration, whose consequences are difficult to imagine, given the demographic dimensions of southern Asia and its role in world development."

In addition to political tensions in the region, he said, India has been troubled by "persistent and perhaps growing fundamentalist currents, not only in the Islamic world but also among Hindus." He noted that India's minority Catholic community had suffered recent discrimination and attacks, just as the country's Muslim community did several years ago in a wave of anti-Islamic violence.

"It is horrible that in today's world religion is mixed up with violence. Fundamentalism is one of the most dramatic risks faced by humanity, and it challenges the conscience of every religious person," the Vatican spokesman said.

In India, Gracias immediately expressed the church's shock and sadness at the terrorist attacks, which he said were an attack upon the entire country.

"The church in India condemns this attack in the strongest possible terms. Innocent and unconnected people have been killed. Very brave police officers have been killed," the cardinal said in an appeal issued Nov. 27. He said the Catholic Church in Mumbai was making all its medical services available to the wounded.

"We must fight together as a nation and as a united people to combat the terrorists. We must never give up hope because ultimately hope will prevail," the cardinal said.

The Indian bishops' conference, meanwhile, appealed to the government to take all necessary means to "guarantee the safety of citizens, who yearn for peace and calm."

India's National Security Guard commandos killed the last group of terrorists when they battled their way into an area of the Taj Mahal hotel Nov. 29. Shortly before that, the commandos had stormed a Jewish centre in the city and found six hostages dead.

In Pakistan, a leading Christian politician condemned the terrorist attacks in India and rejected accusations, voiced by some Indian leaders, that Pakistan was somehow behind the violence. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and the head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, told the Rome-based agency AsiaNews that "we strongly condemn this act of barbaric terrorism and share our grief and sorrow with all families who lost their loved ones in this tragedy." He called on the governments of India and Pakistan to make a joint effort to ensure peace and security in the region.

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