Beliefnet
NEW DELHI, India, June 9 (AP)--India's minority Christians are facing their most serious challenge in five decades, a top community leader said Friday, after the killing of a priest and explosions at two churches this week.

``There is a definite strategy and plan at the national level...these forces at work want to intimidate Christians,'' Archbishop Alan de Lastic, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, told reporters.

De Lastic did not directly point a finger at any group, but Christian leaders allege that Hindu hard-line outfits linked to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist group, have carried out a series of attacks on members of the community.

The government says all attacks are investigated, and many are related to land and property disputes.

Hindu groups allege that Christian missionaries use foreign funds and entice poor, low-caste Hindus to convert. Christians say the conversions are voluntary.

On Friday in Mathura, 150 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of New Delhi, police were investigating the death of the Rev. George Kuzhikandan, who was beaten to death by unidentified attackers Tuesday night. The motive for the attack was unknown.

On Thursday, bombs exploded in two churches in the eastern state of Andhra Pradesh, injuring three people. Later, an explosion damaged a church in the western resort town of Goa, and a bomb exploded outside a church in southern state of Karnataka. But no additional injuries were reported.

``We are intrigued by the response of those in power, and saddened at the silence of the government,'' de Lastic said in a statement. He called it the ``gravest challenge'' the community has faced in India's 53 years of independence.

``A secular, democratic and united India is being put to test today by communal and fundamentalist forces,'' he said.

In Lucknow, capital of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh where Mathura is located, the state government ordered security at all schools run by Christian missionaries.

The prime minister's party urged peace between Hindus and Christians.

``We appeal to the Christian community in particular not to be misled by political propagandists and blame Hindus,'' party spokesman Jagdish Prasad Mathur was quoted as saying by Press Trust of India.

Christians make up just 2.3 percent of the population in India, an overwhelmingly Hindu nation of 1 billion people. Relations between people of the two religions have generally been cordial.

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