Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - Two months ago, Fr. Dushmant Nayak returned to the Divya Jyoty pastoral center in K. Nuagam, destroyed and burned (in the photo) during the anti-Christian persecution that erupted in August. Today, he celebrated the Eucharist in thanksgiving for his return. He tells AsiaNews about his joy at being here. "On November 16th, I returned to the pastoral center. These two months have been the most fulfilling of my priestly vocation. My vocation is strengthened here every day. Here in the face of immense suffering, pain, and anquish, it is most humbling to see people hunger and thirst for the Word of God and for the Eucharist. A priest is welcomed by the hearts of these people. In spite of my unworthiness, I have come to symbolize hope, and in whatever way I can I am called to enkindle the flicker of hope, justice, and peace in the lives of my own people.
"Mother Nirmala Joshi, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, was very happy that I was returning to K Nuagam at the crucial moment when our people needed me. Mother Nirmala did not want me to be alone, so she sent two sisters also to serve our people at this center along with me. These people have lost everything, everything they owned, and are clinging to Jesus and to their priest as a sign of hope.
"At this pastoral center, we were a community of four priests and two sisters – however, when Swami was killed [editor's note: the August 23 murder of Swami Laxamananda Saraswati, leader of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, was the pretext for the anti-Christian violence], I was away in Bhubaneshwar on official duty, and so I escaped the maniacal fury of the fundamentalists. I met both Sr. Meena and Fr. Chellan when they reached the Loyola Hospital after they were subject to animal brutality at the hands of the mobs. I wept at the sufferings and deep trauma of my companions and was filled with thoughts of revenge, but gradually God healed me too. I had the gift of nursing Fr. Chellan for a few days before he left for Mumbai for treatment. After a time of prayer, I strongly felt called by God to return to the people and serve them, heal their wounds, comfort them and rehabilitate them.
"Now after this most horrendous anti-Christian violence, I fear no one, for me today, if I live, I live for Christ and if I die, I die for Christ. Of course, my own family was frightened, but I reassured them, that I am called to be with our suffering people.
"The pastoral center was the largest building in the entire district and was targeted by the fundamentalists even in December of 2007, but in August, the extremists came prepared with gas cylinders, petrol and kerosene, and other equipment to destroy the center. Everything has been destroyed and burnt, there is utter destruction of everything that was not floor, wall or ceiling. The extremists had crumpled every fan, smashed furniture and light fixtures to bits, destroyed every electrical box, and disturbed every wire. Only the reinforced concrete walls, floors and ceiling were standing broken and damaged.
"Along with Mother Teresa’s nuns, we first cleared a community hall to celebrate Holy Mass. People of all denominations flocked to the Mass. It helped the people immensely, there was beginning to form among them some fraternal bond, and they got strength from being able to proclaim their faith to everyone in the village. Since they had lost everything, they had their anchor in the rock of Christ and this was a source of consolation and strength to the people of this village. Now we regularly have around 350-400 people for Holy Mass, and the Eucharist has concretely become for them the source of life and hope and peace.
"The rape of Sr Meena and the brutal beating of Fr. Chellan had demoralized and frightened these Christians of Konjamaldi. People were terrorized by the attacks on these two religious, and there was visible fear. But when villagers knew I had returned, they flocked to our center, people of all denominations came to see us, we were a sign of hope to them.
"I visit the relief camps on alternate days while Mother Teresa’s nuns and religious sisters from other congregations go everything and are a great source of healing both medically and psychologically for the victims. Initially, there were 7,000 people in the relief camp here, and when I returned there were around 2,000, and now just 350 victims are left. These people are being forced out of the camps, there are being given ten thousand rupees and driven out. Most of these have not returned to their villages, they are moving into slums in the cities in Bhubaneshwar. Our people are being displaced, without any identification, as even in their own homes documents were destroyed and burnt. Fear and terror still haunt the our people, with the identification of two persons in the rape of Sr Meena, we begin to hope once again for Justice, but uncertainity still looms large.
"Yesterday, I presided over the funeral of Yubraj Digal, who was kidnapped and murdered. Yesterday his bones were buried."
(Testimony gathered by Nirmala Carvalho)