Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Ten years have passed since the night of January 22, 1999, when Hindu extremists burned alive the Australian Christian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his sons Philip and Timothy (ages 9 and 7, in the photo) while they were sleeping in their station wagon in the village of Manoharpur, district of Keonjhar (Orissa). The widow Gladys Staines talks to AsiaNews about the drama of Hindutva violence and the recent anti-Christian persecution in Orissa.
The woman has been back in Orissa since June of 2006, together with her daughter Esther. About the recent anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal, she says "I feel very sad and I am pained at their suffering." On January 22, there will be a commemorative Mass in Monoharpur, at the site of the murder. On the morning of the 23rd, a prayer service will be held at the Baripada Mission, which will conclude with the inauguration of a new physiotherapy hall.
Staines remembers her husband and sons calmly, with tenderness. "During these ten years, there have been times of sadness, I feel sad that I do not have my husband to support me, to guard me, but these are just momentary emotions of sadness which also fill me with great hope, the hope of heaven and of being reunited with my husband and children in paradise and seeing the Father face to face. This guarantee fills me with consolation.
"I cannot express that how I felt when I got the news of my husband and sons being burnt alive. I told my daughter Esther that though we had been left alone, we would forgive and my daughter replied, 'Yes, we will'."
But time has not taken away the sadness. Last week, Gladys and Esther visited the Hebron Ooty school, where Philip and Timothy studied. Gladys tells AsiaNews, "I feel sad that I do not get to see my sons growing up. Christ has been my companion, but at times I miss the support of my husband. God gives me great support, and the prayers of people has been a source of great consolation, and this is the solidarity I share with the widows of Kandhamal. It is Jesus who is the source of every consolation and support. God gives us the strength to be able to carry our cross and to live in His will. Our life and our work here on earth has to go on according to His holy will.
"These sisters of mine in Kandhamal who have sacrificed their husbands for the sake of Christ - I tell them be strong, stay strong, and Christ will be your support, your companion, your guide and your strength. When God is working with us, nothing can be against us. I am in prayerful solidarity with them, I share their sufferings and I want to encourage them with hope. It is painful and sad but importantly - it is not how we live, but what matters is ‘whether we are in the will of God’. Support them with your solidarity and prayers."
Staines says that she will always continue working to fulfil her husband's dream to live in peace and harmony, and work together for the good of all. "I forgive the other, because I have first received forgiveness from Jesus Christ - I have encountered the presence of Jesus in my life and this is the spirit I share. When we forgive, there is no bitterness and we live our lives and continue the task entrusted to us - with His grace and peace. These Kandhamal widows have also been touched by Jesus. All Christians who have known the intervention of Jesus in their lives will have this gift to forgive and to be the witnesses of His peace and presence. Support them with your solidarity and prayers.
"To the people of the world I say, do not give up hope, pray for India."