01/23/2013, 00.00
INDIA
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Despite discrimination, Christian 'untouchables' haven't lost faith in God, says Orissa bishop

by Santosh Digal
In an interview, the archbishop of Cuttak-Bhubaneswar, Mgr John Barwa SVD, a tribal himself, stressed the importance of ecumenism within the Church, especially in the Year of Faith. The power of faith is strong among Orissa's poor and illiterate. He is grateful to early missionaries, the only ones who worked for development among Dalits and tribals.

Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - The Church in Orissa reaches out to everyone, without distinction of caste and faith. Thanks to this, pogrom victims have not lost their faith in God, Mgr John Barwa SVD, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, told AsiaNews in an interview. A tribal himself, he spoke about the problems caused by the caste system, which makes Dalit and tribal Christians "different from all the rest". Hence, it is important for various Christian denominations to seek unity.

In the Year of Faith, what are your pastoral priorities in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar and Orissa?

All of us have to build a good relationship with our sisters and brothers who belong to different faith traditions in Orissa. Our development activities include everyone in need. I have a very good relationship with the civil administration. I am happy to say that we have good contacts with them.

What efforts are you making to promote ecumenism in Orissa?

As Christians, we are a much divided in the state. We are divided into different denominations and even as Dalits and Tribals. But we are making every effort to be united and we are growing. Different denominations accept me as the head of the Church in Orissa. We have already had several occasions to come together to this effect. I am confident that we will unite as Christians.

Against the backdrop of Year of Faith, how do you see the role of early missionaries in Orissa?

The Church in Orissa is primarily comprised of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who generously responded to the call of faith pioneered by our early missionaries. But, by calling us Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe, it is crystal clear that we are given a colour; we are different from all the rest. The founding fathers of India and the constitution realised that we needed special care, understanding and provisions. In fact, except for the missionaries, no one else cared for us, helped us and worked for our development and growth.

After a hundred years of committed efforts by the missionaries and the Church, Christians have come far to this day. We know very well that we are blamed, punished, persecuted, segregated and neglected. Our names have been removed from the government's list of beneficiaries, although we deserve government privileges and provisions like all other groups in India. Today I speak on behalf of my people, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Four years after the Orissa pogroms, do you think Orissa and Kandhamal District, the epicentres of anti-Christian persecution, have a message for all?

I know well that we, the people of Orissa, and Kandhamal in particular, have a message for the rest of the world. Although economically Orissa is the poorest and most illiterate state in India, we are very rich in our faith in God. I am proud to say this. I visit the various corners of my archdiocese and I see the power of faith manifested. The voice of our people is, "We have lost houses, property, beloved ones, but not our faith." When I visit my parishes and mission stations, I find large gatherings waiting to celebrate the Holy Mass to thank God for His unconditional love.

Do you have a message for AsiaNews readers?

We are grateful to our supporters and friends all around the world for their prayers and generosity. Their generosity has helped us to be what we are today. We have grown not just economically, but also in all round development.

I urge our friends to accompany us in our sincere efforts to rebuild Orissa, Kandhamal in particular, and journey with us through their wish and support.

I see our people live and work, coping with their struggles every day. And we are making every effort to do our best for our people.

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