Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "Kandhamal is a land of martyrs. Kandhamal is a holy land," said Mgr John Barwa, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar as he welcomed priests from Orissa who have come to pray together until Friday. The prelate promoted the spiritual retreat to "renew my heart and that of my priests," hurt by anti-Christian violence in 2008, and to tell the world that "no persecution can destroy our faith".
Fr Errol Fernandes, a Jesuit priest who runs Mumbai's St. Xavier's College, will be in charge of the retreat. After the pogrom, he visited classes in his college to tell students what was happening in Orissa. More than half of the students were Hindu.
Some 35 priests will take part in the first phase of the retreat to be followed by another 40. For the occasion, AsiaNews interviewed Mgr Barwa.
Why was Kandhamal chosen as the location for the retreat?
We are known because of Kandhamal, and although it takes 7 hours to reach, this is the place where my people are. Even if I am beaten up, should I stop coming to this lovely place to meet them?
The whole world knows us because of Kandhamal, a place that witnessed death, devastation and despair. Pope Benedict XVI has decreed the Year of Faith so that "the faith may more clearly illuminate our encounter with Christ and bring us closer to God."
The Year of Faith is an immense gift to us who have experienced Kandhamal. Christ, through this retreat and His Spirit, will renew my heart and that of my priests, which will be filled with missionary zeal.
What will be the theme of the retreat under Father Errol?
This will be a time of Grace for all of us. Fr Errol Fernandes will inspire us with his preaching. A Jesuit, he was a man of the world who gave up a very successful career to become a priest. His was a late vocation. In Mumbai he is not only a parish priest, but also the principal of the prestigious St Xavier's College. With an experience of secular and civil life and his love for the Church and mastery of the Scriptures, he will guide our priests, who need encouragement and appreciation and more courage and strength. Together we shall grow in unity. Let us come together and experience the joy of being together to enable us to live in full communion of joy and peace with Him.
Fr Errol Fernandes has a close bond with Kandhamal. Back in 2008, as principal of St Xavier's College in Mumbai, he tried to raise awareness about what was happening. He went to each class and spoke to all the students. About 480 of the 600 students were Hindus. He told them that they must also take responsibility. He also wrote letters to the editors, speaking out against the violence unleashed on my people.
Do you think that these priests will be able to rebuild their life?
That is exactly what I want. Because if my priests get back their life and power they are motivated to change things. The pope said the Year of Faith would give "renewed energy to the mission of the whole church to lead all tge peoples towards friendship with Christ who gives us the fullness of life."
Give AsiaNews readers a message from Kandhamal
In spite of our properties being destroyed and our loved ones being killed, our faith has remained and shall remain. Our people continue to suffer hardship, marginalisation, discrimination, and poverty, but in the faith that is tested by fire, we profess the Creed. This is our message to the world: No persecution can destroy our faith. This is the message of Khandamal to the world.
Khandamal has become the light to the world and the people know that they have forgiveness and love to offer. Kandhamal is a land of martyrs. Kandhamal is a holy land.