Church delegation visits Manipur with calls for peace

Paramilitary soldiers patrol past a vandalised church in Imphal, capital of the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, May 14, 2023.(Photo: Associated Press/Alamy)

In response to the escalating ethnic-religious crisis in Manipur, a delegation led by Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), undertook a solemn visit to some of the conflict-ridden areas of the state.

The delegation, which included Archbishop Dominic Lumon of the Archdiocese of Imphal in Manipur, Father Jervis D'Souza of the CBCI, and Father Dr Paul Moonjely of Caritas India, saw firsthand the widespread destruction of homes, places of worship, educational facilities, and the plight of displaced people.

During their visit, the delegation explored various affected regions, including Kakching, Sugnu, Pukhao, Canchipur, and Sangaiprou, among others.

The destruction in these areas—many houses and properties in ruins, churches and schools completely destroyed—had the Christian leaders greatly affected. Notably, the St Joseph's Higher Secondary School and Parish was among the destroyed structures. This institution has served as a model of educational, social, and developmental assistance to diverse communities.

The delegation expressed their sorrow and noted that these formerly thriving areas now "looked deserted and seemed like they will not be inhabited in the near future given the mutual mistrust and fear that continues to prevail," the CBCI said. They struggled to find solutions for how to reconstruct communities and institutions under such difficult conditions because of their deep concern for the welfare and future of the displaced families and their children.

Since the beginning of this exceptional catastrophe, Caritas India, the CBCI's humanitarian response organisation, has been at the forefront of finding solutions. Caritas India has already contributed substantial humanitarian aid in partnership with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Diocesan Social Services Society (DSSS), the Social Service Wing of the Archdiocese of Imphal.

In response to the CBCI's call, the Church in India has actively mobilised support for people impacted by the violence through prayers, peace demonstrations, and resource mobilisation, ensuring that relief reaches all affected regions.

The delegation unequivocally condemned acts of violence, atrocities, and attacks, especially those directed at institutions, places of worship, and vulnerable members of society like women and children. They expressed their distress over the prolonged silence and apparent inaction of law enforcement agencies in curbing the violence.

The delegation made a fervent appeal for the governance system to uphold the secular structure of the country, reinforce constitutional values, and foster an environment of peaceful coexistence among diverse communities. In order to restore peace in Manipur and across India, they urged all stakeholders to engage in a meaningful dialogue aimed at the comprehensive development and harmony of all groups of people.

Different religious organisations and church fraternities have stepped up to give a variety of assistance, including financial support, medical treatment, and psycho-social support in the relief camps. The CBCI delegation's visit serves as a heartbreaking reminder of the essential need in Manipur for group efforts in mending the scars caused by violence and developing a way for the state's residents to find peace, harmony, and hope for the future.

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