Mumbai (AsiaNews) - The Harmony Foundation has awarded the prestigious International Mother Teresa Memorial Award to Gladys Staines, widow of Pastor Graham Staines assassinated in 1999 by Hindu radicals together with their two youngest children.
She was honored for her commitment to the leprosy patients in the Indian state of Orissa. With these words, she spoke to AsiaNews about the prize from the Foundation: "I have never worked for awards, and was amazed to be chosen for this award. For some time, I have not living in India, I periodically visit and take great interest in the work for leprosy being carried out in Orissa. I thank God for His help in enabling me to carry out the work in caring for people with leprosy, even after my husband was killed".
Gladys Staines is the widow of Australian missionary Graham Staines. In the night between 22 and 23 January 1999, Hindu extremists burned the pastor and his sons Philip and Timothy (9 and 7) alive while they were sleeping in their station wagon in Manoharpur village (district of Keonjhar, Orissa).
The brutal murder of the missionary was the prelude to the violence against Christians in Orissa triggered in 2008 by Hindu fundamentalists.
Gladys remembers her first reaction to the atrocious crime was to return to Australia. "But then - she says - I thought this place had been my home for 15 years. I wanted to continue to live there and continue the work. I am so glad that I did. " Two months after the murder, the woman returned to live in the village together with the surviving daughter Esther.
She declares: " Getting back to work became an important part of my grieving. Not only me, our staff and patients also grieved with me. This award is an honor for me, my husband and my family. "
Thanks to the contributions received for the Padma Shri award, obtained in 2004, the widow managed to transform the house for lepers in a real hospital, where patients can receive all the care they need. Gladys continues: "I thank God for His Grace and the support of the people which enabled the continue to serve with compassion the people. Through my award, I would like to honor the people, who through God’s help continue the work. The hospital is serving the people afflicted with leprosy. Additionally, after my husband was killed, a hostel for children has been built which gives the children an opportunity for education. The Lord Jesus Christ has given me peace in my heart. I greatest wish for Orissa would be the people would become self-reliant and empowered, and live together in harmony and they may have peace in their hearts ."
Abraham Mathai, president of Harmony Foundation, later reported: "Our Foundation aims to give light to the 'Invisible India'. While the spotlight is only on the 'Incredible India', we would like to make known also the invisible part of the country to the world community, the people and organizations who work tirelessly to promote awareness among communities, so as to create a better world " . Regarding the reason that prompted them to award the prize to Gladys, he concludes: "Society today needs peace, tolerance, equality and social justice. So we decided to reward those who encourage these values and pushes society to assimilate. This is the legacy of Mother Teresa, who spent her life in tirelessly serving the cause of the Dalits, the poor and marginalized in our society. "