Asia News report:
Fr George Joshua, an Indian priest, leads the activity. He is an important figure in the struggle for the religious freedom of Indian Catholics living in Saudi Arabia. He tells AsiaNews about the suffering and abuses inflicted upon on the million Christians living in the Muslim country, where every religion other than Islam, is banned.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – More than 700 Indian Christians from the Christ Army for Saudi Arabia (CASA) are fasting and praying for the success of the Synod of the Churches of the Middle East and for religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. Fr George Joshua, an Indian priest who belongs to the Malankara rite, is their leader; he provides spiritual support to Catholic migrant workers from Indian living in Saudi Arabia.
In 2006, Fr Joshua spent four days in a Saudi prison for celebrating Mass in a private home and was eventually expelled. A year later, he set up CASA in Trivandarum, Kerala. Across the state, the movement holds prayer meetings to focus attention on the fate of Christians in Saudi Arabia.
“There is no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia and no official pastoral care for the over a million who live in the country, of which nearly 3 lakhs are Indian,” he said. One lakh corresponds to 100,000.
Over the past few months, CASA has prayed for the Synod hoping that Catholics living in the desert kingdom can one day be free to worship as they please.
In the kingdom, priests are not allowed to celebrate Mass, he said. Any activity has to be underground, away from the eyes and ears of the Muttawa, the Saudi religious police.
“Recently, a French priest was picked up for celebrating Mass to various groups,” Fr Joshua said. “He was released only after many hours of interrogation.
Christians caught praying together are arrested right away, imprisoned and then thrown out of the country.
“Catholics can only pray in the privacy of their home and alone. They are not allowed to pray with family or friends,” the priest explained.
However, “Starting in 1995, new religious movements have emerged with lay people secretly praying and reading the Bible. In addition, some are even able to teach the catechism to children.”
The only priest of Indian origin in Saudi Arabia is a certain Fr John, who caters to the needs of English- and Malay-speaking Catholics, Fr Joshua said.