Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - For the second time in a few months, a fire has destroyed the orphanage of Fr. Edward Sequeira, in Padampur (Orissa). On the night of March 20, unknown persons set fire to the building, already a target of the first Hindu violence last August. At the time of the first fire, Rajni Majhi, a 20-year-old woman who was helping Fr. Edward as a teacher, was killed. The Divine Word priest was tied up and beaten for more than an hour, and also risked being burned to death (see AsiaNews.it on 04/09/2008 and AsiaNews.it on 05/02/2009). This time there were no deaths, but the orphanage was destroyed.
Interviewed by AsiaNews, Fr. Edward says: "This setting fire to the Padampur orphanage is a clear indication that the area is still simmering and there is still risk of carnage." The priest lost everything in the fire. He explains that after the first fire, "the police were guarding the burnt down orphanage and the night that the police was away, some unknown persons set fire to the place. That is clearly indicative that our Padampur mission is under constant surveillance by certain forces."
The orphanage is one of the works that Fr. Edward has been conducting for more than 10 years in the district of Bargarh, in Orissa, located in a backward region "where people live in absolute poverty without basic human dignity. The Padampur mission was completely damaged.
"Most of the people we serve are poor Dalits who have to face the brunt of the atrocities. These poor and marginalized sections of society are ruthlessly exploited and eking out a humiliating existence. Despite attempts on my life - which still continue - my mission is to serve these people in spite of the hostile atmosphere. My ministry is to rehabilitate them and empower them through education, giving them dignity and a potential for self-reliance through vocational training, and making them aware of their rights."
Fr. Edward reiterates his intention not to leave Padampur, where he still runs a leper colony. "Our mission to serve the marginalized and ostracisied must go on, that is our calling, to serve these people with the love that Christ had for his Church. As a Catholic priest I was ordained to serve, so in spite of the climate of intimidation we have to breathe life of hope into these people. The cross is always be present in the life of a Christian, and this cross brought forth the most powerful fruit of the resurrection. This is our life, the cross of Christ in the face of persecution, and the hope of resurrection."
From August of 2008 until February, the violence against Christians in Orissa destroyed 315 villages, 4,648 homes, 252 churches, and 13 schools. 120 people were killed, but some government figures say that 500 died, including 10 religious. There were 54,000 refugees: some of them have returned to their villages, but there are thousands of families still living in government refugee centers or in the forest. Thousands more people have chosen to leave their villages forever and live in the slums of the big cities, simply to avoid returning to the places where the discrimination and violence against Christians continue.