10/29/2008, 00.00
INDIA
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Indian Church remembers Fr. Bernard Digal, martyr of the faith in Orissa

by Nirmala Carvalho
Archbishop Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar emphasizes his "tireless" work on behalf of "persecuted Christians," and his devotion to the Virgin Mary. His fellow religious stress his "virtues and ability to forgive his persecutors." Friday October 31, the community's last goodbye to the slain priest.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "Fr. Digal was the treasurer of the diocese, an extremely sensitive priest, always considering the needs of other priests before his own, seeking always fraternal communion." This is how Rapheel Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, remembers Fr. Bernard Digal, who died on the evening of October 28 at St. Thomas Hospital in Chennai.

Fr. Digal was attacked by a group of Hindu fundamentalists on the night of August 25, in the first days of persecution against the Christians of Orissa. In spite of the medical treatment he received, his health continued to worsen. On Saturday, October 25, he was taken to the hospital of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, where he underwent an operation to remove a blood clot that formed in his brain following his beating by the fundamentalists on the night of the attack. On October 27, his lungs collapsed, and he fell into a serious respiratory crisis, following which he was put on a respirator. He received the anointing of the sick at 9:25 on October 28, in the presence of Archbishop Cheenath, and died.

"Fr. Bernard has been given the martyr's crown, he has received the palm of victory from the saints in heaven," says the archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar. "Ever since the violence against the Christian erupted in December '07, Fr. Bernard hardly ever rested, continously coordinating efforts to rehabilitate the people - through peace initiatives, and providing all assistance to the people to avail of the compensation and seeking all measures to bring the lives of the people derailed by the carnage on track. Fr .Bernard was deeply devoted to the Blessed Mother and the rosary and often shared with us how he sought refugee in the Madonna in moments of despair.

"The Kandhamal Chrsitains now have a powerful intercessor in heaven, Fr. Bernard will now continue his work for our people from his heavenly home. His final commitment culminated in a kenosis of total surrender, he was completely immersed in the Passion of our Crucified Lord, and now we hope in the glory of the Ressurection. Our belief in the victory won by the resurrected Christ is reason for hope - the hope that heaven lies beyond death."

Fr. Bernard met with AsiaNews last September 10, during his convalescence at Holy Spirit Hospital in Mumbai (see photo). He was 48 years old, and was ordained on May 29, 1992. He was a native of the village of Tiangia in Kandhamal, one of the areas most severely affected by the recent anti-Christian violence perpetrated by Hindu fundamentalists. He recounted the dramatic moments of the attack, following which "for an entire night, he remained unconscious and half naked in the forest." His funeral will be celebrated the day after tomorrow, Friday, October 31.

Fr. Ajay Singh, director of the Jan Vikas, a social assistance center of the diocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, recalls the "holiness" of Fr. Digal, his "missionary zeal," his "service to the people," his words of "forgiveness" toward those responsible for the violence, and his constant work aimed at "their rehabilitation." Fr. Manoj Digal, a cousin of the victim and a native of the same village, recalls that "since December, Fr. Bernard worked tirelessly with the Kandhamal Christians who were suffering violence and humiliation, His virtues of humility, forgiveness, inherent justice, goodness and self-sacrificing love will nourish the faith of our people."

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