The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) has expressed its condolences with the families of Hindu pilgrims who died after flash floods hit one of their camps in the Indian-administered Kashmir last week.
“The CBCI mourns the loss of lives of the devotees and prays for their families left behind,” read a media statement released by Cardinal Oswalg Gracias, president of the conference.
The Catholic Church leaders also prayed for those injured and expressed hope “that they may be healed quickly.”
The bishops thanked all those who helped in the rescue operations and expressed hope that good weather will prevail and the devotees will get a chance to offer prayers and return home safely.
The Amarnath shrine sits at 3,900 meters (12,800 feet) altitude and is dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, with an ice formation in the cave believed to be an incarnation of the deity.
On Friday, a sudden cloudburst triggered flash floods that swept away hundreds of tents and three large community kitchens that serve the pilgrims free food.
Authorities in the restive territory have confirmed several deaths and people missing.
Hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees undertake the arduous journey for the annual pilgrimage, which was not held for two years because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Accompanied by a huge security operation involving tens of thousands of soldiers and police, New Delhi hopes the religious event reinforces its claim on the disputed Muslim-majority territory, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed in full by both.
Rebel groups fighting Indian rule of Kashmir have said in the past that the pilgrimage is not their target, but have threatened to act if the event is used to achieve Hindu domination of the territory.
In 2017, a pilgrim bus was attacked by suspected rebels, leaving 11 dead.
But weather has proved to be a more regular challenge along the treacherous routes to the cave shrine.
Nearly 250 pilgrims died in 1996 when they were suddenly caught up in snow storms that hit the area. – with reports from Matters India and AFP