Unidentified vandals have carried out two separate attacks on churches in the Diocese of Rourkela in India's Odisha state on the night of Easter Sunday.
One of the attacks took place in Salangabahal where a statue of Mary was removed from St. Thomas Catholic Church and thrown into a nearby river. According to UCA News, the vandals also destroyed a statue of baby Jesus.
The other incident took place in Bhabandh village, where the vandals reportedly set fire to a parish room.
A priest at Bihabandh Catholic Church noted that people were already sleeping after Easter celebrations, but they were woken because of the commotion prompted by the fire. Fr. Bipin Kishore Majhi told UCA News that the fire eventually reached the nearby sacristy, destroying vestments and other items.
UCA News reported that the attacks took place within a seven km. radius. Police inspector Bijay Kumar Singh said that armed officers have been dispatched to the area due to the delicate nature of the incidents. He said that no suspects have been identified so far, but they are hoping to make some arrests soon as the investigation is already ongoing.
Rourkela Bishop Kishore Kumar Kujur asserted that the attack was premeditated, adding that "both incidents have taken place around the same time of the night."
"This is the work of the same group, which is against the Christian community," the bishop said, according to Crux.
In his letter to other bishops in Odisha, Kujur stressed that the Diocese of Rourkela has not experienced vandalism attacks in the past.
"The people of the different religion, culture, language in this region have been peacefully living together harmoniously for ages. We hope and believe that such vicious activity does not occur in the future," he stated in the letter, according to Crux.
Odisha state, which was originally known as Orisha, has seen what has been described as worst anti-Christian violence in Indian history just a decade ago.
About 100 Christians were killed and thousands were reportedly injured in the riots that began in Kandhamal after Hindu leader Swami Laxmananada and three others were shot dead on Aug. 23, 2008.
Apart from the casualties, 300 churches and 6,000 houses were reportedly destroyed, leaving 50,000 people displaced.
Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar noted that this year marks the 10th anniversary of the riots and urged all Indians to work hard to preserve the country's secular nature to avoid similar incidents.
"Religious freedom and freedom to worship must be respected and upheld and human dignity and justice must prevail, even in the smallest remote rural area of India. These kinds of incidents, only bring shame and disgrace to our country, and must never be allowed to continue," he added.