08/25/2015, 00.00
INDIA
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For Mgr Barwa, Kandhamal Christians are witnesses of Christ, at peace in the face of persecution

The archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar remembers the anti-Christian pogrom of August 2008, when some 55,000 Christians were forced out of their homes. Some 300 churches, as well as convents, hostels and welfare facilities were destroyed. Several women were raped. At least 91 people died (38 according to government figures). Christians say that one thing “persecutors could not do: they could not separate Jesus from us,” said the archbishop.

Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) – Mgr John Barwa SVD, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, spoke to AsiaNews about the strength of the faith of Christians in the Indian state of Odisha (Orissa) on the seventh anniversary of the terrible massacre of Christians unleashed by Hindu radicals in 2008.

I am always moved by my people’s joy,” said the prelate. “They suffered horrific anti-Christian violence. Yet, their faith did not waver; on the contrary, they strengthened their faith and love for Christ.”

On 23 August 2008, a Maoist group killed Hindu leader Laxamananda Saraswati in his ashram, in Kandhamal District. Even though the insurgents claimed responsibility for the assassination, Hindu radicals blamed Christians. The guru had criticised lay Christians and clergy alike for helping tribals and dalits and had accused them of proselytising among these groups.

Rapidly, across the district, Hindu extremists unleashed the most violent persecution ever seen in the history of India’s Christian minority. A series of localised pogroms displaced 55,000 Christians, with 5,600 homes pillaged and torched in 415 villages.

According to government figures, 38 people are known to have died. Two women were raped.  Many people suffered loss of limbs and permanent, debilitating injuries. However, according to data collected by the Church and social activists, at least 91 people died during the violence: 38 right away, 41 from their wounds, and 12 in police actions.

Many others suffered as well, like Fr Thomas Chellan, director of the Divyiajyoti Pastoral Centre, who was beaten, and the archbishop’s niece Sister Meena Barwa, who was with him at the time of the attack, and who was raped.

Almost 300 churches as well as convents, schools, hostels and welfare facilities were destroyed.

Last February, Mgr Barwa inaugurated the first monument erected in honour of the martyrs of the anti-Christian pogroms, which includes a reference to Fr Bernard Digal, who died in hospital in October 2008 after two months of agony.

The phoney trials that followed the violence saw a court in Phulbani give seven innocent Christians life imprisonment for the death of the Hindu leader despite the fact that Maoist insurgents claimed responsibility for his murder. Even today, Christian victims and their families have not seen any justice.

Here are the archbishop’s comments:

Kandhamal is a beacon of hope for persecuted Christians around the world.  There is a deep tranquillity and deep joy in our Christians, who suffered for their faith. The peace that surpasses all understanding comes from Jesus Christ.

I am always moved by my people's joy. They suffered horrific anti-Christian violence. Yet, their faith did not waver; on the contrary, they strenghtened their faith and love for Christ.The faith of our Kandhamal Christians bears witness to the world of the Living Jesus.

My people showed such serenity in the face of persecution. In front of their wives, husbands were asked, ‘Will you give up the faith?’ Courageously, they answered, ‘No. Do whatever you want!’” “Similarly, wives were told, ‘Do you see your husband facing this? If you do not give up your faith, you will face a similar fate.’ And the wives answered, ‘Never. If my husband can face this, why shouldn’t I? Do whatever you want. I’ll not give up.’” This is the gift of grace.

Every day we are called to encounter Christ in the joy of our suffering for His Name.  When I went around after taking over, I visited every convent, and I met all my leaders and all my priests. And I heard one voice, 'Archbishop, all our houses have been destroyed, our churches have been destroyed, our beleoved ones have been massacred, but one thing the persecutors could not do: they could not separate Jesus from us." (N.C.)

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