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India: Orissa Bishops' Pastoral Letter

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, "The Lord is my Shepherd there is nothing I shall want". In this time of crisis and conflict, we come to you through this pastoral letter to express our solidarity with you, to pay homage to those brothers and sisters who have laid down their lives for the sake of their faith, to comfort those who have been injured, to be with those who have been traumatized by the violence and mayhem unleashed on Christians, to do everything in our ability to ensure rehabilitation of those who have lost their houses, property, churches, institutions etc, to stand by those whose rights have been violated, and to assure that justice will be done to all who have suffered by the violence against the Christians of Orissa.

We are humbled by your strong adherence to your faith and by your trust in Jesus Christ as the Saviour and Lord. We are humbled by your willingness to go through all kinds of humiliations, trials and even persecutions for the sake of your belief. We are proud of you for your ability to withstand all forms of intimidations and threats. We pray with you for the continued strength from Jesus our Saviour and Lord so that we all may continue to carry forward his mission of compassion, love, unity, justice and peace.

Though a bit late, this pastoral letter comes to you to express our solidarity with you in this time of deep crisis and conflict; to share our own concerns about the violence that is done to us Christians; to condemn all forms of violence; to demand from the Government that adequate security be provided to all, relief and rehabilitation be undertaken in full measure, life in the relief camps be made more human; to demand from the government that the guilty be punished; to demand from the government that an adequate compensation package be announced and undertaken.

We condemn in strong words the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and demand from the Government that the culprits be identified and punished. We reiterate the fact that no Christian, no Church Institution or leadership is involved in this murder. We also condemn in unequivocal words the violence that is unleashed on the Christians as an aftermath of the killing of Swami Laxmanananda. We condemn in strong words the lies that are propagated by some vested interests that the Christians were behind the killing of the Swami. Instead we reiterate the fact that the loving and the compassionate mission of the Church continues irrespective of the persecution.

We understand the factors and forces behind violence against Christians. The Church has been standing by the side of the poor and the marginalized. Through education, health, housing and employment programmes, the Church has been bringing in awareness and awakening among the vulnerable communities. They in turn are demanding their rights. This is not liked by the powers that are since they fear their position being challenged by the poor people. Hence, they have taken to violence. But we condemn this and restate our resolve to continue the services of the church.

We appreciate the many initiatives taken by many individuals, organisations, civil society organizations, media persons and houses, NGOs, academics, political activists, conscious citizens and people from all walks of life of Orissa and India to stand by the Christians who were victimized for their faith. We are moved by their sense of solidarity and unity with all those who are affected by the ongoing violence in Orissa. Inspite of the fear of being identified by the fundamentalist forces, these people have stood by us as citizens of the same country, though our religions may be very different. We express our gratitude to them.

We also want to express our gratitude to all those organizations – both national and international – that stand by us in this time of crisis and conflict and provide various supports. In your name, we also thank the individual Christians, parishes, Dioceses, CBCI, other churches, church institutions all over the country and abroad who raised their voice against the violence on us and provided solidarity and support.

Above, all we want to express our gratitude to people of all religions of Orissa and India, who in spite of the efforts by the fundamentalist forces and some political parties to divide them and create conflict between them, upheld the Indian traditions of communal harmony and national integrity. As always, we promise to continue our tradition of communal harmony and collective destiny.

With you, we are agonized over the tardy manner in which both the State and Central Governments have responded to the ongoing violence against Christians in Orissa. We are sorry to state that both these governments have failed miserably in discharging their constitutional obligations. Hence, we call upon them to use all the powers bestowed on them by the Constitution of the country and ensure that peace and harmony prevail in the area and that the guilty be punished and the affected people be protected and adequately compensated.

We also acknowledge and appreciate the efforts taken by many officials, government departments, committees and commissions, politicians and political parties to ensure law and order, to ensure peace and harmony and to establish rule of law. We are committed to work with them at all times. Our appreciation is also extended to friends from the media who reported the unfolding of violence, the root cause and its impact in an unbiased manner.

Once again we want to express our pastoral sentiment that we are humbled by your adherence to faith in this time of conflict and crisis. We join with leaders of all the churches of Orissa to express our solidarity with you. Like Jesus, we pray for the perpetrators of crime. We pray with you that the Holy Spirit may give his wisdom and courage to the officials, government machinery and the governments to act immediately and to act in a non-partisan manner and bring life to normalcy for all in Orissa. We also pray with you that the Life, Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus may strengthen us in this time of crisis so that we may continue to live our Christian life in this country without any hesitation. May Mother Mary guide our every step so that we may seriously, courageously, systematically and sensibly respond to the violence committed on us!

We are going to meet with the representatives of the Church of Orissa and would reflect about the violence and come out with short-term and long-term plans to respond to violence. We send this pastoral letter with every spiritual blessing. In Christ,

  • † Most Rev. Thomas Thiruthalil CM,
    Bishop of Balasore and Chairperson of Orissa Bishops' Regional Forum
  • † Most Rev. Raphael Cheenath SVD,
    Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar
  • † Most Rev. Alphonse Bilung SVD,
    Bishop of Rourkela
  • † Most Rev. Lucas Kerketta SVD,
    Bishop of Sambalpur
  • † Most Rev. Sarat Chandra Naik,
    Bishop of Berhampur
  • † Most Rev. John Barwa SVD,
    Coadjutor Bishop of Rourkela