Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - The crowd beat him shouting: "Yesu Christi Murdabada", "kill Jesus Christ." He now says: "God has allowed this to happen to me so I could bear witness to the faith of priests and solidarity towards all the priests of the world who suffer in His name." Fr. Edward Sequeira (pictured with our correspondent) was one of the first victims of anti-Christian pogrom of Orissa. On July 18 he celebrates the 25th anniversary of his ordination and the anniversary falls as the Church celebrates the Year of priests. For the Divine Word Missionary priest this coincidence is another "sign of the work of Divine Providence" in the past year.
On 25 August last, 500 Hindus attacked the orphanage of Fr Sequeira at Padampur in the district of Kandhamal, setting it on fire. Rajni Majhi, a twenty-year-old who helped him as an educator, died in the blaze and he himself risked dying carbonized (see AsiaNews.it of 04.09.2008 and AsiaNews of 05.02.2009). In March this year, the scene was repeated: for a second time the orphanage was set alight, the structure was destroyed, but luckily no one was killed (see AsiaNews.it of 27.03.2009).
In an interview with AsiaNews he says: "It is only by the grace of God that I am alive today. Like a loving father he saved me so I can witness His name. His immense compassion brought me back to life after the events of eleven months ago. "
The 25th anniversary of your priestly ordination during the Year for the Priest called by the Pope. How significant is this coincidence for you?
I am sure that God allowed these things to happen to me as a witness for the faith of the priests and for solidarity with the priests suffering for His name all over the world and also for the cause of the Church. A priest is called to be another Christ, ‘alter Christus’. Christ has suffered such physical torture, such humiliations, and we priests are ordained to serve in his footsteps. Christ has so abased Himself that He accepted everything; He exposed Himself to everything - to sacrilege, to blasphemy and to the cold indifference of so many people - in order to offer even one man the chance of hearing the beating of His Heart in His wounded side. This is the priest's identity: he is a direct and daily instrument of the saving grace which Christ has won for us. I am blessed and privileged to share, in a small way, in the suffering of Christ. I have not lost anything, nothing, even this persecution is only a gain, an incalculable gain.
How did the persecution you suffered effect your vocation?
This past year has been a spiritual journey and a renewal of my priestly vocation. A priest is ordained to identify himself with Christ. Christ carried the Cross and was crucified on the Cross- and a Priest is called to live every day this incomparable value of his vocation, the value of that character with which he has been stamped and which he will never lose. The teaching which we have received from the divine lips of Jesus has not changed. Christ came to break the barriers that shackled human kind. Christ came into this world to establish a Kingdom of Peace, Justice and Truth. He came to clothe those despised with human dignity.
This year marks another anniversary: 10 years of work at Padampur. Another coincidence?
These ten years in Padampur, working among the lepers, seeking a just social order for them, empowering them through education to become self reliant- have brought out the wrath and anger of those who were exploiting them, so many of my lepers were working as bonded labours. And I as a priest, served these ostracized people, showered them with love and gave them dignity, worked for human rights and justice. I was the target of their hate. As the Gospel of John says “If the world hates you, remember that the world hated me before you”. God has shown me that by the power of His Grace I can continue to serve his people and priests can do a lot in society, in advocating the love of the neighbour, reconciling man to God and also building bridges of peace, understanding, love, tolerance and communion between peoples, society and communities. Christ said: “You did not choose me; it was I who chose you and sent you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last”. We are called to stand for the Gospel Values that are perennial, and serve the people, empty ourselves for the Gospel teachings, like Mother Teresa who served the poorest of the poor, cleaned their maggot infested wounds, brought smiles to the face of the destitute and dying, and never discriminated on the basis of caste or religion, all peoples were children of God….and this is the life of a priest- called to bring God’s love to the other.
On the invitation to the mass for the 25th anniversary of you ordination you have written that your mother has ‘reason to rejoice’. Why?
My mother has been an immense source of strength. She has stood by me especially during this last year, praying for me. My Mother is now 83yrs and she suffered and cried when I was attacked by the fundamentalists, she would gather the family, neighbours and others to pray the Rosary for my recovery. Even though she was traumatized by my attack, she never ever asked me to give up my mission, telling me that I am a Priest for ever. She anxiously waited to receive me alive and today she is very happy and is celebrating my Silver Jubilee in the Our Lady of Remedies Church in Kirem, Mangalore.