Fr Purushottam Nayak, AsiaNews contributor, is tasked with the process. A list of 105 martyrs, including seven Catholics, is already ready. The rest are Christians from other denominations, Hindus, Muslims and more, killed because they helped, hosted, and defended their Christian brothers and sisters. Some widows tell their story. One of them is about Rajesh Digal, killed at 26.
Cuttack-Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) – Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar started the diocesan process for the martyrs of the anti-Christian pogrom of 2008 in Odisha (Orissa).
Fr Purushottam Nayak, a contributor to AsiaNews, is in charge of collecting testimonies and evidence of martyrdom. He is the pastor at Our Lady of Charity parish in Raikia (Kandhamal), where many of the killings occurred during the pogrom.
The diocesan process is only the first step. After all the collected material is gathered, it is sent to the Vatican for further examination and research, ending finally in beatification and canonisation.
So far, he has a list of 105 martyrs, including seven Catholics; the rest include Christians of other denominations, as well as Hindus, Muslims and more, killed because they helped, hosted and defended their Christian brothers and sisters.
“The diocese wants to honour non-Catholics and non-Christians because it recognises and appreciates the sacrifice of their lives out of love,” Fr Nayak said. A group of six people is helping the clergyman, following “a standard procedure in collecting information.”
The process involves: “First,” drafting “a critical biography of the martyred candidate; then [filing] a report on his virtues: faith, hope, charity, generosity; then” another report “on his holiness, on the favours obtained through his intercession.” Lasty, “a list of possible obstacles to the cause” is made.
To do their job, “The group collects public information about the candidates and their martyrdom, citing a list of witnesses, both for and against their cause.”
One of the greatest difficulties is the fact that “survivors are afraid to speak out: their wounds are still open, and they are still forced to live with people who do not value the martyrdom of Christians.”
In addition, “many of those who survived the Kandhamal pogrom are missing, having fled to never return to their homes and villages.”
Despite this, “we are making every effort to meet the survivors, both individually and together with their families, collecting as much data as possible about the martyrs of Kandhamal.”
The widows of many of the men killed are among the most important “sources” for the diocesan process. Fr Nayak met a group of them on Christmas Day and last Sunday in the village of Tiangia.
After the Eucharist, they gathered around the martyrs' memorial, a yellow column surmounted by a cross, with seven names of worshippers killed in 2008.
One of the guests is Anita Pradhan, 36, widow of Sibino Pradhan, from Our Lady of Charity parish, in Raikia. “Sibino Pradhan was murdered in 2008, during the anti-Christian violence,” the priest said.
“Anita’s faith is strong, even if her life is full of difficulties. Even now, the government hasn't given her the compensation it promised. Her economic hardships have also increased with COVID-19”.
Asmita Digal, 35, was married to Rajesh Digal, from the village of Bakingia, about 7 km from Raikia. On 26 August 2008, Rajesh was pulled off the bus he was travelling on and killed in Paburia. He had attended a meeting of Protestant pastors in Hyderabad and was returning to his village.
Hindu radicals realised he was Christian because they found a Bible in his backpack. They threatened to kill him, beat him and then threw him into a well. They demanded he renounce his faith, but Rajesh refused, preferring to die. He was 26. Asmita only learnt about her husband's death two days after the killing.
“All of them speak about their experience, about persecution, their eyes filled with tears,” Fr Nayak said. “It is really moving for me to see their faith and strength in the Lord. I feel a lot of sadness, and I share in their pain, but I am also comforted to see their hope and hear their testimony.”