Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of thousands of Christians and Hindus took part in Midnight Mass in the parishes of Kandhamal, Bubhaneshwar and other districts in Orissa. For Mgr John Barwa, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, "the level of participation is unprecedented in the history of the Church in Orissa". Interviewed by AsiaNews, the prelate said that "sense of peace, festivity and prayer was palpable in the churches."
Catholics and non-Christians came to Mass with their families. Hundreds of children brought flowers and candles, which they placed before crèches to pay homage to the Baby Jesus. In light of the anti-Christian pogroms by Hindu extremists in 2007 and 2008 that left hundreds dead, this is extraordinary fact.
"God came to earth to be with us," the archbishop noted. "Slowly, non-Christians are recognising that." For the prelate, the large crowd is a sign that Christ brings together people from all nations.
"A young Italian woman attending the Mass asked me why there were so many people," he said. "Because they want to share the joy of Jesus," he answered.
"Looking at all these people, I realised that I am not a pastor for Christians alone. All the people in my archdiocese belong to my flock. On 25 December, the Baby Jesus spoke to everyone with the simplicity of his presence, telling everyone: 'I am here!'"
In his message for 2012, Mgr Barwa thanked the civilian administration for protecting religious buildings during Christmas celebrations.
"All that we are and all that we have is God's gift," the archbishop said. "The New Year, 2013, the Year of Faith, is God's gift to us who are privileged. I hope the New Year will be rich in opportunities to work together and that it may bring hope, harmony and communion in Orissa."
For the archbishop, youth and children are the backbone of Orissa's Christian community. Through education to deepen faith in Jesus, they can be agents of social change and true messengers of Christ in a society divided by hatred and violence.