SRINAGAR: For the first time in five decades, a church bell rang Sunday at the largest Catholic church in the main city of India's portion of Muslim-majority Kashmir.
Members of Srinagar's tiny Christian community assembled at the 120-year-old Holy Family Catholic Church and celebrated the installation of the new bell, weighing 105 kilograms (231 pounds).
The church lost its original bell 50 years ago in an arson attack. According to church officials, the church and its belfry were damaged in the attack by protesters demonstrating against the 1967 Mideast war.
The bell was badly damaged and rendered useless in the incident, said Sydney Rath, a local Christian member of the church. He said the bell was not installed all these years because "the community didn't have enough resources to order a new bell after its damage."
Rath said one of the roughly 30 Christian families living in Srinagar donated the bell.
People from other faiths, including Muslims and Hindus, also participated in the event on Sunday.
The Rev. Roy Matthews, the church's pastor, said the interfaith ceremony reflected the traditional "composite culture" of Kashmir.
"So the message is loud and clear that we all are one, no matter whatever faith, persuasion you have, but basically we are all human beings," Matthews said. "This is a message that every religion should make known to the world today because of the divisions and violence in the name of religion."
India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for the Indian-administered portion to become independent or merge with Pakistan.