The toll so far is a heavy one and bound to rise. Tens of people have died (some estimates put the number at around 100). At least 52 churches (both Catholic and Protestant) have been destroyed. Hundreds of homes have been damaged. Four convents and five hostels and youth residences have fared no better. Six Catholic volunteer and social institutes have been devastated. Last but not least hundreds of cars have been set on fire and countless personal belongings have been lost.
Even now thousands of Christians are still in flight, running from slaughter, living in forests, terrorised, without food or clothing.
Orissa, a state located in north-eastern India, has seen such waves of persecution before. Last December on Christmas Eve, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu fundamentalist organisation, attacked and destroyed 13 churches and chapels, killed three people and wounded scores of Christians in Kadhamal district, leaving many people homeless.
One of those who drove Hindu mobs against Christians was Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a VHP leader.
The latest wave of persecution came right after the Swami met his maker at the hands of a Maoist terrorist group on the evening of 23 August.
Even though law enforcement authorities were quite clear about who was behind the Swami’s assassination, some VHP leaders immediately blamed Christians for his death.
During the guru’s funeral thousands of radical Hindus began the pogrom shouting “Kill Christians! Destroy their institutions!” Ultimately, by relentlessly attacking Christians and their institutions they can wipe out their mission.
For Tribals, who are often worked like slaves in farming, and Dalits or untouchables, Christianity is way out of their situation; a way to have their rights protected; a way to finally have some dignity as human beings. To some extent the degree of persecution is a measure of the Christian mission’s success.
But in being anti-Christian, Hindu fundamentalists are going against the Hinduism preached by the Mahatma Gandhi who wanted a secular India, open to all religions, without castes; a country that would give Dalits, or Harijian (children of God) as he called them, their dignity.
In its exclusivist nationalism the VHP is closer to Nazism for it aims at turning India into a country without Christians, Muslims, Parsees, etc, destroying India’s history, turning its back on the country where cultures and religions met and mixed.
But what is happening is not only India’s shame. It is also that of Europe and the world. Except for a few voices like that of Italian Foreign Minister Frattini, no government has dared to say anything about the massacres in Orissa, let alone calling for them to stop.
Many pacifists and associations quick to defend other groups, minorities, endangered species, have chosen silence; perhaps they might even suspect that behind the charges of proselytism levelled by Hindu radicals there might be some truth.
As some Vatican leaders pointed out, in Europe and around the world there is a kind of Cristianophobia that seeks to rid itself of its Christian heritage, perhaps even through lies.
For this reason, the news about anti-Christian persecution in Orissa, in China or the Middle East are of little interest; indeed, they might even be justified.
This makes our news service, prayers and witness all the more important, in India and in Europe.
The call by Italian bishops to a day of prayer and fasting tomorrow, 5 September, on behalf of India’s Christians and in remembrance of the Blessed Teresa of Kolkata is part of this commitment to truth and love.