» 12/28/2010, 00.00
Christmas in Orissa: we also reach out to those who persecuted us, says Msgr. Raphael Cheenath
Celebrations were peaceful in Orissa, where the bloody pogroms of 2007 and 2008 have left wounds in Christian communities. The Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar: "The message of Christmas is to break down the barriers and walls of caste, colour, creed and religion to create a community of brothers and sisters united in love, including our Hindu brothers."
Bhubaneswar, Orissa (AsiaNews) - The Christmas celebrations in Kandhamal district were held in a peaceful atmosphere, but the majority of Christians have lived in fear, father Puroshatam Nayak of the diocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar told AsiaNews. In remote villages there were no celebrations for fear of attacks. The district administrations provided protection to the larger churches. AsiaNews interviewed Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, Orissa state, which was the scene of bloody anti-Christian pogroms in 2007 and 2008.
What was the atmosphere like this Christmas season in the diocese?
Christmas reminds us that Christ came to establish the supremacy of love. In other words, love takes precedence over all other virtues. To do this he even had to change some laws and traditions that existed in the society of the time. So he could become free to go to the poor, receive the tax collectors, sinners and people on the margins of society. Of course the upper classes, the priests and the elders of the community did not approve of this. They accused him of reaching out to the sinners and the poor. We, in Kandhamal and in Orissa, we try to reach the poor, the Dalits and tribals so that they can be freed from some of the traditions and customs of the upper classes of society. The love of Christ inspires the Christians in Orissa to be strong enough to withstand the pressures of society. So the message of Christmas is to break down the barriers and walls of caste, colour, creed and religion to create a community of brothers and sisters united in love, including our Hindu brethren.
What is your message to the Christians of Kandhamal who have suffered so much in the pogroms of the last three years?
Christ came into this world to go to the poor, the sick and the marginalized. The poor always have a special place in the heart of Jesus There are people who are not afraid to take risks or undergo difficulties to bring some joy to others. Today the vast majority of humanity is suffering from hunger, poverty, disease and religious persecution. They live a precarious existence. India alone has 70% of its population living below the poverty line. In his farewell speech the former President of India, Abdul Kalam asked: who will care for them? We need millions of people to bring the joy of Christmas and the hope of a more prosperous new year to this 70%.
How to try to reach out to non-Christians?
Many people have a tendency to exaggerate the negative side of things or actions. Because of this, we keep people away from us, especially those who are low in our estimation: the poor, the illiterate, the least developed economically, and the outcast. We missionaries see not only poverty, backwardness, misery and oppression in the poor but also human dignity, life and joy. So we do not hesitate to reach out to our Hindu brothers and our enemies, who persecuted us in the past. Because we believe that God sent His son to us because of our human dignity as children of God
What do you expect from the government for the people of Orissa and India in general?
There is so much violence, bullying, oppression, slavery and injustice between individuals, communities, states and organizations. Today we are witness to senseless killings, torture, rapes, oppression. Do our governments, politicians, bureaucrats and public institutions must respect life, dignity and human rights. In fact, the majority of humanity is systematically reduced to becoming a commodity through exploitation, commercialization and globalization. The beneficiaries of the recent policies of governments, national and international, are a small minority. The rest is impoverished and dehumanized. So, the million dollar question, are we able to accept each other as brothers and sisters? I think ours will be a better world when we are able to see the goodness in others, not only shortcomings and mistakes, and when we will be able to live as brothers and sisters, rather than hate each other. The message of Christmas for us is that God is with us, and in the hearts of all. Finding it in our daily life is 'mukti', salvation. Finding it in others is universal brotherhood.
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The faithful prepare to celebrate Christmas with hope, even after a long period of persecution. The authorities in Kandhamal have promised security and call for “respect and solidarity with Christian communities.” People want to “forget the pain, divisions and the loss of dear ones.”
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Representatives from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland visit the region more than a year after it was shaken by violence. Authorities in New Delhi deny the diplomats permission to visit Kandhamal district. They meet ten survivors at the Bishop’s House in Bhubaneswar-Cuttack diocese. Bishop Cheenath said they expressed “concern” but “did not make any promises”.
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