Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) – On the International Day of Peace, the Church of Orissa renewed its commitment to interfaith dialogue and harmony between communities of different religions, Mgr Raphael Cheenath said. Speaking to AsiaNews, the archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar spoke about the Church’s efforts, two years after anti-Christian pogroms left 93 people dead, in promoting peace in its parishes and institutions and getting people from other religions involved.
“Efforts are being made to remove fear and suspiciousness among the people,” the prelate explained. For this purpose, “the Church is setting up leadership teams” whose members “are open-minded and big-hearted” and include members “from other communities.”
In parishes across Kandhamal District, the International Day of Peace has thus provided an opportunity for activities, like sports and games, with people from various communities.
“We are seeking the support of all other sectors,” said Fr Bijaya Kumar Pradhan, who oversees the peace process in Kandhamal. All “need to be supportive of peace initiatives and work” together because “peace is the primary objective of all our endeavours”. Ultimately, in his view, reconciliation is possible only with everyone’s support.
Between December 2007 and August 2008, Hindu extremists attacked Christians in Kandhamal District. A total of 93 people were killed and 6,500 homes were looted and then set on fire. More than 350 churches met the same fate, as did 45 schools.
Because of the pogroms, more than 50,000 people fled into the forest. At present, many of them are still living in refugee camps. Others, who have gone home, have been forced to reconvert to Hinduism.
Most of the people responsible for the deadly violence are still free. Witnesses who could testify at their trial in the Kandhamal courthouse have been silenced through threats and intimidation.