Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Vicar General of Patna Archdiocese Dies of Stab Wounds, Christian Community Agitated

May 3, PATNA, Bihar: Catholic priest, Father Mathew Uzhuthal, Vicar General of Patna Archdiocese and Parish Priest of the Catholic Church, Mokama, Patna District, died, May 1, of stab injuries by a criminal, at Patna's Kurji Holy Family Hospital (KHFH), Patna.
The Christian community in Bihar has been agitated over the armed attack and injury of the priest, April 11, by a criminal youth Mr. Gyan Prakash Das, at Mokama, 95 kilometers southeast of Patna.
The news on the attack on the priest was reported several times in the newspapers and the TV.
This was the fourth incident of killing of Christian priests in Patna Archdiocese and the second at Mokama. Father Uzhuthal, aged 70, was brutally attacked in the evening of April 11, at his office-cum-residence at the priest's house in the Church compound near Nazareth Hospital, Mokama (NHM).
The priest had suffered heavy wounds on the left lower chest, and back of the neck besides several cuts around the neck. The assailant ran away from the room as another priest and Chaplain of Nazareth Hospital, Father Thomas Cheruvally, accompanied by Notre Dame Sister Suja, rushed to the spot hearing the agonizing cry of Father Uzhuthal. Collapsed and in a pool of blood, Father Uzhuthal was immediately rushed to NHM, run by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCN).
Brought on April 16 to Patna's Kurji Holy Family Hospital for availing treatment by specialists Father Uzhuthal was operated upon, April 23, by senior neurologist, Dr. Ramesh Chandra. However, his health deteriorated and battling for life for 19 days, he succumbed to his injuries at 00.15 hours, May 1.
What is disconcerting is the police inaction, in spite of a First Information Report (FIR) filed soon after the incident.
A delegation of concerned citizens led by the Archbishop of Patna Benedict J. Osta, Father James Amakatt, Chairperson of Mokama Citizen's Forum (MCF) and MCF member Mr. Daljeet Singh, Sister Nirmala Mulackal, Administrator of Mokama's Nazareth Hospital, Apostolic Carmel Sister Dr. Doris D'Souza, Principal of Patna Women's College and another member met the Director General of Police Mr. Narayan Mishra on April 28, and the Governor Dr. Buta Singh, on April 29.
The delegation appealed to the Governor to arrest and prosecute without delay the assailant Gyan Prakash Das, and to provide police protection to the Mission personnel at Mokama in particular, and to free Mokama town and vicinity of criminal elements who continue extortion and terror, in general.
Some Christian schools were kept closed on Monday May 2, protesting the aggression and death of Father Mathew.
The State authorities have assured the delegation of justice. The police started a round-the-clock patrolling security at the Mission compound on April 30. The police have also claimed that they have arrested five persons allegedly connected with the criminal. But the criminal who had been earlier jailed for 5 years, is still at large.
An energetic and zealous missionary, Father Mathew Uzhuthal from the Palathumkal family at Vaikom in Kerala, joined Patna diocese in 1953 and had his ecclesiastical training mostly at St. Joseph's Seminary, Mangalore. He was one of the hundreds of priests ordained by the pope himself (Paul VI) at the Eucharistic Congress on December 2, 1964, at Mumbai.
During his 40-year-priestly ministry he had served in many Mission stations as co-pastor (5 years) and parish priest (22 years). His distinguished contribution was catechetical training at Jyoti Bhawan (House of Light), the Archdiocesan Catechetical Training Centre, which he founded at Mokama.
In his condolence message during a Mass attended by nearly 2000 laity, clergy and religious, on May 1, at St. Joseph's Pro-Cathedral, Patna's Archbishop Benedict Osta thanked all doctors, nurses and others, especially the SCN nuns at NHM and the nuns at KHFH, collaboratively run by Medical Mission Sisters and SCN nuns.
In the funeral Mass held at Mokama Church from 10 a. m, Monday, May 2, the Archbishop told the people to keep to their faith and work united to overcome the anti-social elements in Mokama. Father Mathew represents all those who lost their lives fighting against violence, aggression, and greed, he added.
While deploring the death of a priest the Archbishop highlighted two messages of Father Mathew at his death: courage to stand for truth and forgiveness to the offender.
Over 3000 people including three bishops, 150 priests, a few hundred nuns and lay persons from many dioceses in Bihar and Jharkhand attended the funeral and bade a touching farewell to their spiritual guru.
SCN Sister Mercy Thundathil associated with Father Mathew for nearly 32 years said the greatest contribution of Father Mathew is empowerment of the laity through faith formation. He loved the Dalit Christians, she told SAR News, May 2.
His organizational qualities as Vicar General, an additional post he was shouldering since 1993, will be remembered in fostering lay leadership, Mr. Gabriel John, President of the Bihar unit of the All Indian Catholic Union, told SAR News.
One of his students, Mr. Shila Chandra Das, a government employee in Patna recalled how Father Mathew tirelessly worked for the youth, educating them and helping them get jobs. He maintained good contact with members of other Churches and other religions, said Church of North India (CNI) member Mr. A. Christopher.
The Church in Bihar has lost a great missionary who loved his people, Archbishop Osta said.
(Courtesy: SAR News)