India: High Court rejects plan to demolish historic churches

 The High Court in India's southern Kerala state has rejected the plea of a parish priest who wanted to demolish two historic churches.

On Wednesday, the Court ruled that the two churches: the 16th century St Augustine Church and 19th century St Mary's Church in Palai diocese, are historical monuments and should be protected.

Father Matthew Narively had appealed against a government notification stipulating that he was not to demolish the churches. He said he needed the space for a new church building to accommodate the growing parish population.

Justice Antony Dominic, a Catholic, dismissed his appeal and observed "there was no substance" in such contention.

The government reacted when a group of parishioners resisted the priest's plans, saying the churches are linked to the history of the Oriental-rite Syro-Malabar Church, one of the three Catholic Church rites in India.

"These monuments speak volumes about our rich culture and history. If we destroy them, we are wiping out our past," said PJ Cherian, director of the Kerala Council for Historical Research and a member of the Mar Thomas Church. The Church is one of seven in Kerala that trace their faith to Saint Thomas the Apostle.

He welcomed the ruling as it will help to "protect many more historical monuments facing demolition threats."

In June 2008, the government declared the two churches as monuments under the provisions of the Kerala Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1969.

Cherian said Christians' lack of a sense in preserving historical monuments would further impoverish the Church.

Joseph Zacharias, a Ramapuram parishioner who opposed the demolition, said he was happy with the court ruling, which also showed that the Church had little regard for its own history.

The churches, standing side by side, are "a treasure trove of invaluable murals and a blend of Indian and Portuguese architecture," he said. The mural on the Lord's last supper inside one of them is considered a rare piece of art and believed to be the work of an Italian monk, Zacharias said.

Fr Narively said he was not against the conservation of structures of archaeological importance but needed to build a new church for more worshippers.

However, Catholic layman Joseph Pulikunnel called his logic absurd. The parish could "easily build" another church on its 12.12 hectare compound without demolishing the ancient ones.

The court ruling, he said, will help create better awareness among the public and Catholics on the need to preserve historical monuments.

Source: UCAN

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