Divine Word Missionaries
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Anti-Christian Violence Rocks INE Region, India
he eastern Indian state of Orissa has been plagued by communal violence between Christians and Hindus. The Christian missionaries in Orissa mainly work among the poor tribal peoples of the region and the Hindus accuse them of forced conversion. Only 2.3% of India's 1.1 billion citizens are Christians in the majority Hindu nation. It is shocking and sad to know the anti-Christian atrocities that have happened and are still going on in the region from August 24, 2008 onward. It is very difficult to report how the innocent Christians as a whole (generally the poor living in villages), missionary personnel in general, and some of our own confreres in particular, are being harassed and persecuted in Orissa. The killing, looting and destruction seem to be well planned and carefully executed – the helpless poor being at the receiving end.
The attacks and the persecutions began on August 23 when a Hindu seer named Laxmanananda Saraswati, a member of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (a Hindu Extremist group) leader and four of his associates were brutally gunned down, reportedly by some militants in Kandhamal district of Orissa, eastern India. It was reported that it was “a suspected Maoist attack,” This Hindu guru had been warned of such an attack because of his involvement in the communal violence in December 2007 in the same area and was asked to stop his anti-Christian activities by members of the same militant group who claimed responsibility for his killing. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad members were quick to accuse the Church for masterminding the murder of Laxmanananda Saraswati. It took a violent turn and the protesters went on attacking Church Institutions and personnel, breaking the laws and fundamental rights of the country and the people. They attacked, looted and burnt several churches, convents and religious institutions and assaulted several priests, religious and laity in many parts of Orissa. As of now, some 20 people are killed during the violence.
In the diocese of Sambalpur, our confrere Fr. Edward SEQUEIRA was assaulted and very badly beaten up in his mission station at Padampur. His residence was set on fire, jeep burnt and the care-taker of the boarding children burnt alive. Fr. Edward was initially admitted to a local hospital at Padampur and later shifted to a major hospital for further treatment. He was in a critical condition and is currently out of danger. Catholic Church Madhupur, which was started by late Fr. Alois Kanski (a German confrere in India for many years) in the diocese of Sambalpur, was attacked and the church and other structures in the campus were badly damaged and burnt. Seeing the attackers coming by vehicles, the priests and the sisters fled the place and hid themselves in the neighboring villages.
In the state capital Bhubaneswar, miscreants stoned the Archbishop’s house and broke some window panes. They tried to damage the parish church, but the Rapid Action Force prevented them. It is reported that the residence of our St. Arnold’s School in Bhubaneswar was stoned and partially damaged. There are also reports that the Jesuit-run Xavier Institute of Management in the capital is also partially damaged. They destroyed the diocesan pastoral center of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese with a bomb and the director of the center and a nun were beaten up, stripped and paraded in public.
In Jajpur district, SVD-run mission station in Dubiri, was also attacked by miscreants. They kidnapped our confrere Fr. Simon LAKRA and a diocesan priest and took them to the forest, stripped them and beat them up badly. It is reported that they have returned to their residence wounded and bruised.
Besides these assaults and atrocities on our confreres and mission, there are also several other incidents of looting, burning and violence all over Orissa. Many people are physically assaulted and their houses burnt. Different churches belonging to Christian denominations are destroyed and burned down. These events have disturbed peace all over Orissa and made the minority Christians shaken and battered.
The Church in India has strongly condemned the brutal murder of the Hindu leader Laxmananda Saraswati and his associates. “We do not approve of violence in any form”, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) said, and has asked the people of good will to pray for peace and good sense to prevail over in Orissa and that people of all religions may live in harmony as God’s children. Deepest sympathies are expressed to the poor Christian families who became victims to all these anti-Christian events.
The Church authorities in India have asked the Central Government in New Delhi for protection of Church personnel and properties in Orissa. Some Central Military Force and Orissa police are around to control the situation in the region. But, the atmosphere still remains tense. The Central Government has assured the Church delegation that all necessary steps will be taken to maintain peace and harmony and to protect the innocent.
Pope Benedict XVI has called for an immediate end to the acts of violence against Christians in India, which has caused many deaths over the past three days in Orissa. The Pope said he "learned with deep sadness" the wave of violence against Christians, which intensified over the weekend after a Hindu leader Swami Laxmananada Saraswati and his companions were killed.
"While I firmly condemn all attacks against human life, the sacredness of which demands the respect of all, I express my spiritual closeness and solidarity to the brothers and sisters in the faith so hardly tried. I implore the Lord to accompany and support them in this time of suffering and give them the strength to continue in the service of love in favor of all", the Pontiff said.
Benedict XVI also asked "religious leaders and civil authorities to work together to restore among the members of the various communities the peaceful co-existence and harmony which have always been the distinguishing mark of the Indian society."
The Episcopal conference of India is to meet the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to urge him to hold an independent inquiry. "We will also ask the Prime Minister for payment of immediate compensation to the victims and their rehabilitation," said our confrere, Fr. Babu JOSEPH, CBCI spokesperson. Oswald Cardinal Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay, announced that all Catholic schools across India will be closed on August 29 as a sign of solidarity with the Christians in Orissa and as a protest against the attacks. The Episcopal conference of India has also declared September 7 to be a day of prayer for peace and communal harmony.
Prayers are requested at this time so that peace and harmony may prevail. Access to information of the real happenings is not easy, you know, because the poor are affected, and who will speak for the poor, any way…?
(Most of the information in this write-up is taken from reports sent by many of our confreres in India).