He died in Mumbai and not in Orissa because he had received death threats. He led the Church during the Kandhamal pogroms and fought for the rights of victims and survivors.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Msgr. Raphael Cheenath, the emeritus Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar (Orissa) passed away last night aged 82 at 9.45pm in Holy Spirit Hospital in Mumbai. Msgr. Cheenath, SVD, was pastor of the Church of Orissa during the period of pogroms perpetrated by Hindu radicals and paramilitary groups and was among those who tirelessly fought for justice for the Christian victims, despite attempted cover ups and intimidation.
Card. Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Mumbai and President of the Latin Bishops in India (CCBI), remembered him thus: "The Church in India mourns the death of Archbishop Raphael Cheenath .. who led the archdiocese of Cuttack Bhubaneswar in the most traumatic period for the Catholic Church, in Indian. Msgr. Cheenath campaigned ceaselessly for the Kandhamal Victims and Survivors, who August 2 last finally obtained a more dignified compensation from the Supreme Court of India".
He also recalls that "the Archbishop Cheenath had received death threats and as a result was not able to live his final years in retirement carrying out a public life in his Archdiocese. I warmly welcomed him to live in Mumbai, along with his Divine Word confreres. His death in our archdiocese will bring many blessings to our Church”.
Msgr. Cheenath was born December 29, 1934 in Pallissery Archdiocese of Trichur (Kerala), into a large Catholic family. He was the second son of 11 children. He joined the Divine Word in 1953 and became a priest in 1963, holding various positions in his institute, including election as general consultor of the Divine Word in 1972. But in 1974 he was appointed Bishop of Sambalpur (in western Orissa).
He became archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar on 11 August 1985. The people in his archdiocese remember him as a holy man, with a tenacious and creative spirit. During the 26 years of service to the Archdiocese of Orissa, he nurtured the growth and development of the diocese and of society.
Following the massacres in Kandhamal (2008), he drew up a Memorandum for the victims and the survivors in which he asked for the construction of refugee camps for the victims and the survivors, left to wander in the forest; the right to return to their homes; adequate recompense for the wounded and widows; remuneration for churches and religious houses destroyed in the pogrom; the end of the forced conversion to Hinduism; the end of the hate campaign by Hindu nationalists.