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Vandals pillage church
- Priest says denial of self-help group money angered goons

Krishnagar, July 14: A priest's office was ransacked and a vault containing the communion bread was stolen from a church in a Nadia village early this morning.

The hoodlums threw the Bible and other religious books on the floor and disconnected the local area network of 10 computers used for a computer literacy programme run by the church at Raghabpur, some 65 km from Calcutta.

'Not a single lock in the gate was broken. So, either someone had left it open by mistake or someone opened it for the goons,' said an officer of the Ranaghat police station.

This is not the first time a church in the district has been targeted. On December 5 last year, a group of people had burnt the communion bread and pages of the Bible at Jalalkhali, 70 km from Calcutta. The attack was in retaliation to Father Antony Kariyattil's campaign against alcohol abuse by village youths.

Four years ago, masked men armed with revolvers and other weapons had raided a church at Maliapota on Christmas Eve and robbed about 1,200 villagers who had congregated for Midnight Mass. The church's safe boxes were cleaned out and head priest Fr T.J. Abraham was assaulted.

District superintendent of police R. Rajsekharan today said: 'The items stolen were not of much value. But it's an attack on a church. We are taking it seriously.'

He has sought fingerprint experts from Calcutta and sniffer dogs from their training centre at Barrackpore in North 24-Parganas

Raghabpur is a hub of criminals, mostly extortionists, who make a killing by targeting traders in Ranaghat town. Over the past two months, two extortionists were killed in what police believe were gang wars.

About a third of the population of the village of 10,000 is Christian.

The church trains the poor in computers free of cost, runs a self-help co-operative group for village women and helps them save money. Father Jose Pulickal said: 'Local toughs demanded money from the co-operative, which we thwarted. They also wanted a say in our computer programme, which we refused. It seems they have sought revenge by attacking our place of worship.'

The vandalism was first noticed by Fr Pulickal, who st-ays in quarters in the church building, when he entered the prayer hall around 5 am. 'From the way the office was ransacked and the 30-kg iron vault was carried away, we think there were quite a few of them,' the priest said.

He called the police. A large contingent led by district additional superintendent of police Subrata Mitra arrived.

Mitra spoke to the priest and church official Priyalal Barui, both of whom were sleeping in the building at the time of the incident. The offi-cer also spoke to the church caretaker, Amitra Mandol, who stays in the village.

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