Nepal's Catholics suffer arson attack weeks before elections

An arson attack struck the first Catholic cathedral in Hindu-majority Nepal on Tuesday leaving the building and priest's housing damaged.

The incident occurred around 3 am, the pastor of the parish, Father Ignatius Rai, said. Although the priest's residence and the western part of the Assumptio Cathedral were damaged, there were no casualties, according to Vatican Radio.

A Christian boy holds a placard in a Christian protest in Nepal, where Christians account for less than two per cent of Hindu-majority Nepal's 28 million people.Reuters

'This is shocking,' Father Rai added. 'The local Christian community is now living under threat.'

A former parish priest of the Assumption Cathedral, Father Silas Bogati, said: '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 organisation.'

A parish statement urged against any disturbance to religious harmony after the attack.

'The Catholic Church has been involved in social work for half a decade now and will continue with ‎our work despite the frequent attacks,' a parish spokesperson said.

Catholics are a tiny proportion of Nepal's Christian minority. The Nepal Catholic Directory estimates there are about 8,000 Catholics in the country, mostly in the eastern region. This is out of a total population of 28 million, 80 per cent of whom are Hindu.

The attack comes weeks before Nepal's first local elections in 20 years on May 14. Seen as a stepping stone in implementing the country's new secular constitution passed in 2015, one major party has decided to campaign locally on reinforcing a Hindu state.

‎'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.‎

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