12/26/2007, 00.00
INDIA
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Christmas Day violence tarnishes India’s democratic image, says bishop of Orissa

by Mgr. Thomas Thiruthalil
Hindu fundamentalists use anti-conversion laws to terrorise Christians, but persecution makes the Church stronger. The chairman of the Orissa Regional Bishops’ Council, the bishop of Balasore, talks about the issue.

Balasore (AsiaNews) – Mgr Thomas Thiruthalil, bishop of Balasore (Orissa) and chairman of the Orissa Regional Bishops’ Council, sent AsiaNews a message commenting the anti-Christian violence that happened on Christmas Day in the Indian state of Orissa:

The widespread violence that marred Christmas Day in Orissa tarnishes India’s image as a democratic and secular nation. Fundamentalist forces are bent on threatening and terrorising Christians in a state like Orissa where Christians are a poor and marginalised minority. In this state the Church is endlessly accused of converting non Christians and Swami Saraswati, who was behind yesterday’s violence, is a leader of the anti-conversion movement. Conversions have been a hot issue for quite some time. Back in 1967 the state adopted the Freedom of Religion Act, which started the process that has led to repressive anti-conversion laws.

Ostensibly adopted to protect people from forced conversions, the aforementioned Act has really been a legislative tool to prevent people from exercising their freedom of religion and freedom of thought. This and other laws can be easily manipulated by Hindu fundamentalists becoming “legal” tools to act violently against religious minorities by falsely charging them with all kinds of foul deeds.

Sadly Christian missionaries and their generous service have become targets for violence by the same people they are meant to serve. With its educational and health care services, the Church in India is open to people whatever their caste or faith. Many majority Hindus have enjoyed social, educational and health care services provided by the Church. And yet for no good reason they continue their attacks and violence against the same Christian-run institutions and facilities and staff [that helped them].

The attack carried out yesterday, Christmas Day, took place for the sole purpose of terrorising the Christian community and stopping our missionary work. But the Church has always grown in persecution and this will happen again in Orissa. The Church which grows in love and unity has as its basis a faith marked by suffering and persecution.

To us priests, men and women religious and laity who work in difficult circumstances in Orissa the Pope’s Encyclical Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope) comes as a prophetic message. From such persecution we come out stronger. The birth of Christ, the Humble One, acknowledged by marginalised people like the shepherds is the reality we now experience in Orissa.

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