“World is coming to an end, so follow us to Bethlehem”
5 priests promise Palghar tribals protection from the 2012 ‘apocalypse’, saying only Christians living in Israel will survive
Five priests from Vasai converted hundreds of tribals from Devkhop village near Palghar to Christianity, saying the world will come to an end in 2012, and only those living in Bethlehem Jesus Christ’s birthplace will survive.
William Dias, Santa D’Souza, Alphonso Dabre, Simon John D’Souza and Solomon Shinde, all parish priests, were arrested on Thursday from Devkhop, around 11 km from Mumbai.
They told the tribals who had converged in the village that within a matter of minutes, they would vanish, only to reappear in Bethlehem, Israel.
Families of the tribals alerted the police, and the priests, along with their aide Hari Wadhan, were arrested.
Police said preliminary investiga-tions revealed the tribals were misled to ensure they convert to Christianity, and the priests didn’t take any money from them. However, many tribals sold their lands and cattle, thinking those would be of no use in Bethlehem.
Palghar resident Ashok Bhole, who along with activist Parag Gharat accompanied the tribals’ families to the police station, said the priests were “brainwashing” the tribals for the past 10 days.
“These are poor people, many of whom have not stepped out of their village in decades. They were promised trips to a foreign land (Bethlehem) and cash,” he said.
Inspector Popatrao Pawar from Palghar Police Station said, “The situation was tense as tribals’ families stoned the bus that the priests had sent for the converts. The priests, and Hari Wadhwan have been arrested.”
Gharat added, “A lot of tribals sold their land and cattle, which alerted their families. We suspect the priests hypnotised the tribals.”
Recently, the State government had ordered District Superintendent of Police (Thane Rural) Vishwas Nangre Patil to inquire into allegations of large-scale conversions of tribals to Christianity in Thane district.
There were complaints that tribals were lured by cash and gifts, and the Thane Rural Police had submitted a report to the State denying such conversions.
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