Tension mounts as Shiv Sena eyes ancient Mumbai Church

"The church has remained apolitical and does not want to be dragged into a mire of contention"
( [email protected] ) Nov 19, 2003 10:52 AM EST

Mumbai, India., Nov. 19 - The 500-year-old ruins of the St John Baptist Church at Santa Cruz Electronics Exports Processing Zone (SEEPZ) has caught the eye of the government and the Shiv Sena, both of whom want to help rebuild the structure. However, the Catholic community does not want either party to be involved.

The government recently said it is willing to hand over the abandoned ruins to the community, while the Sena has offered to send kar seva volunteers to rebuild the church. But the Bombay Catholic Sabha (BCS), the largest organisation of lay Catholics in the city, wants political parties to stay away. “We do not want crumbs from political parties. The government intends to hand over the church to the archdiocese and we do not want anybody else to get involved in the issue,” said Dolphy D’Souza of BCS.

Hansel D’Souza, a community member, said, “We do not want political parties to create a ruckus over churches.” The 11,000-strong Catholic community in the area already pray at St John the Evangelist Church, Marol, and do not need another church.

However, the East Indians who have lived in the area for centuries say they want to save the St John Baptist Church because it represents their heritage.

The church has not been handed over to the community yet.

Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam said the request for help to rebuild the SEEPZ church came from the local Catholic community. “I have Uddhav Thackeray’s backing. The community asked me for help because they said a lot of money would be needed to repair the church. In fact, my party had first demanded the church be returned to the local community.”

However Dr Abraham Mathai of the All India Christian Council said, "The church has always remained apolitical and does not want to be dragged into a mire of contention between political parties especially communal parties."