The Church in India is mourning the loss of a Catholic priest and a volunteer that lived in the village of Chota Rampur, in the Diocese of Meerut in the state of Uttarakhand, northern India.
His name was Fr Samuel Francis, also known as "Swami Astheya," given the fact that he led the life of a hermit in an "ashram," or typical Hindu monastery, adapted to the Christian tradition. The priest, who was 60 years of age, was found dead on 22 September, along with a volunteer named Mercy, who was working in the area. According to inquiries, the homicide occurred two days beforehand.
As a statement from the Indian Bishops' Conference explains, the homicide does not seem to be part of an anti-Christian hate campaign launched by radical Hindu groups, but rather the result of a robbery attempt in the place where the priest was living, which has in fact been robbed.
The Christian ashram was a place where priests, religious, Church groups, and young people went for a day of retreat and meditation. It was a center of prayer and a place where the poor and needy could find comfort and assistance. It also became a reference point for the organization of encounters and interreligious events, especially between Christians and Hindus.
The local Church sources say that it was a special experience, especially in the midst of this time of violence being carried out by radical Hindu groups who have been contaminated by the discriminating ideology of "hindutva." The Catholic ashram and Fr. Samuel's work showed that dialogue and mutual respect are the basis for interreligious relations and this offered a model for all religious communities of how to build harmony and peace in the nation.
The funeral of the priest was due to take place yesterday, in Chota Rampur, in the presence of numerous Christian faithful and with the participation of leaders from other religious communities.