The coffin of Father Mark Barnes, a Christian missionary, which was found missing under mysterious circumstances, a few hours after his burial at St Mary School premises was found at the secluded cemetery in Gumtala on 17 February 2005 by his supporters.
The development has sparked off a major controversy once again. The community stands divided over the issue of burial, which has become a matter of concern for the ruling party, as Father Mark had great following in the Ajnala constituency.
This is for the first time unidentified people vandalised the coffin of one of the most respected Christian missionaries who had devoted his entire life to the downtrodden people of the border belt.
Earlier, his sister Anne Waikling had sided with his supporters who wanted his burial at the school premises. The burial took place after the sunset on 16 February 2005 in the presence of a large number of his followers and top officials.
A little later the supporters of Father Mark found the coffin in the cemetery in dramatic circumstances. The local administration and members of the Christian community remained tight-lipped. However, certain followers said a few policemen who were guarding the burial site were also found ‘missing’ after the incident.
Sister Angela who resides at the premises of St Mary’s School said they had gone to sleep about 11 pm. When she woke up the following morning, the grave was found vandalised and dug up, she said.
Gurwariam Singh, SDM, visited the spot but refused to make any comment. However the Jalandhar diocese smelt foul play about the reported burial. In a press release the diocese said, “His body was officially handed over to the representatives of the dioceses and the body was prepared in full priestly and liturgical attire. We do want to give the highest honour to Father Mark as a Catholic priest which he always was and his funeral rites to be conducted by His Excellency Rt Rev Dr Symphorian Keeprath, Bishop of Jalandhar diocese, accompanied by all priests who loved him and worked with him and with the people whom he served in the border districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur.”