//Catholic priest deported after Saudi arrest

Catholic priest deported after Saudi arrest

4/13/2006, UCANews (www.ucanews.com)

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (UCAN) – A Catholic priest who was arrested in Saudi Arabia for saying Mass in a private apartment returned safely to his base in southern India April 9 after being deported by Saudi authorities.

Police arrested Father George Joshua Kanneeleth of Trivandrum Syro-Malankara Archdiocese April 5 in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, and kept him in custody until he was deported four days later, Trivandrum chancellor Father John Kochuthundiyil said.

The church official told UCA News April 11 that the deported priest was on a visit to Saudi Arabia when the country’s religious police raided the apartment where he was saying Mass and arrested him. The Persian Gulf nation bans the practice of any religion other than Islam in its territory.

"We have no complaints against the Saudi government. They treated our priest well. He was not fined," the church official said.

Father Kanneeleth, who was on a tourist visa, met and prayed with some families of the Syro-Malankara Church who work in Saudi Arabia. The Oriental-rite Catholic Church is based in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

Syro-Malankara Major Archbishop Cyril Mar Baselios of Trivandrum was not available for comment. His diocese is based in Thiruvananthapuram, formerly Trivandrum, the Kerala capital, about 2,700 kilometers south of New Delhi.

Father Kanneeleth also was not available for comment.

Jiji Thomson, principal secretary of the Kerala government’s Non-Resident Keralites Association, said the Saudi government has not informed the state of the incident. The association looks after the welfare of people from Kerala working outside the state.

"Practicing a religion other than Islam in the Saudi kingdom is a crime. Severe punishment, including flogging, is given to those who break the law. I’m happy (Father Kanneeleth) is back home safely," Thomson told UCA News.

Catholics of St. Mary’s Parish, where the deported priest serves, told UCA News they were pleased at their priest’s safe return. "We came to know about the incident only when he returned. Thank God, he was just arrested and deported," James Mathew, a parishioner told UCA News.

Muslim youth leader Abubacker Karakkunnu told UCA News the priest’s attempt to conduct prayer meetings in Saudi Arabia was either because of his "ignorance of Saudi Law or an act of misadventure." Saudi laws "are very tough," the Muslim youth explained. "A crime like this would normally attract 100 lashes, (along) with a hefty fine," he said.