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    » 12/24/2009, 00.00

    INDIA

    Peace and forgiveness, two sides of Christmas among Orissa Christians

    Ajay Kumar Singh

    The faithful prepare to celebrate Christmas with hope, even after a long period of persecution. The authorities in Kandhamal have promised security and call for “respect and solidarity with Christian communities.” People want to “forget the pain, divisions and the loss of dear ones.”
    Kandhamal (AsiaNews) – Two years after experiencing savage persecution, Orissa Christians are preparing to celebrate Christmas with “renewed hope”. Threats from some Hindu fundamentalist groups still hang over them; the memory of the attacks, murders, and homes and churches set on fire are still alive; but the desire to celebrate the birth of Christ, who taught the value of “forgiveness” and the reassurances by law enforcement in Kandhamal district are small signs in favour of “peace and reconciliation”. The first arrests of those responsible for the violence help as well.

    The first major attack against the Christian community in Orissa occurred on Christmas Eve 2007.  The pretext was an alleged attack against Swami Laxamananda Saraswati. The final count of that time was eight dead, more than 850 homes set on fire, and people fleeing into the forest in search of safety. Christmas 2008 was even more traumatic because of the anti-Christian pogrom fundamentalist had launched at the end of August right after Swami Laxamananda was murdered. On that occasion, Christians were blamed for his death, which was followed by a series of violent attacks that left hundreds dead, widespread devastation, churches and convents set on fire, and entire villages abandoned.

    This year, in conjunction with Christmas, Hindu extremists from the Sangh Parivar are preparing two days of strikes and demonstrations (Bandh) for 24 and 25 December. Activists will carry posters and banners, calling on people to boycott Christmas. Yet the threats will not stop Christians from enjoying the festive season.

    Indeed, an “atmosphere of joy” is prevailing among children “who wait impatiently to celebrate,” said Augustine Singh, a lawyer for the victims of the violence.

    Of course, problems have not been solved, and for the second year in a row, celebrations will take place in tents because “churches were razed to ground and we had to flee our villages because of threats.”

    However, the arrest of Gururam Patra, general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kandhamal, and second in command in the pogrom, sent “a strong signal against those who perpetrated the violence and is a ray of hope for the Christian community.”

    Fr Manoj Nayak, who coordinates refugee assistance, said “signs of peace and reconciliation” are visible. On 10 December, about “2,000 people, mostly Christians, gathered to celebrate International Human Rights Day.”

    Sr Christa, a nun with the Carmelite Sisters of Saint Theresa, said that Jesus is “a sign of peace and reconciliation” and that “we are his messengers.” The world yearns for peace and “forgiveness should be the foundational value of human relations,” she added. “This is what Christ came to teach us so that everyone can recognise God as Father and accept all men and women as brothers and sisters.”

    Meanwhile, the authorities in Kandhamal have said that they would provide security and protection to the faithful who will participate in the various Christmas functions. District magistrate Krishen Kumar, who called for a peace meeting last Monday, appealed to everyone to show “respect and solidarity for Christian communities.” At the same time, he increased the deployment of police forces in sensitive areas.

    Fr Praful Digal insisted that the community wants “to forget the pain, divisions and the loss of dear ones.” He explained, “We have suffered for Christ and Jesus will ease our suffering. Here we can understand what it means to be born, like Jesus, in a manger, without a home, because we too are homeless, with no place where we can remember Jesus.”

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    See also

    17/11/2009 INDIA
    Orissa: European delegation meets victims of anti-Christian pogrom
    Representatives from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland visit the region more than a year after it was shaken by violence. Authorities in New Delhi deny the diplomats permission to visit Kandhamal district. They meet ten survivors at the Bishop’s House in Bhubaneswar-Cuttack diocese. Bishop Cheenath said they expressed “concern” but “did not make any promises”.

    17/09/2009 INDIA
    For Orissa bishop government lying as it tries to evade responsibility in anti-Christian violence
    Government officials testify before the commission of inquiry set up to look into last year’s anti-Christian violence. Former district collector in Kandhamal talks about illegal conversions to Christianity, whilst police inspector general claims the authorities had no intelligence about Maoist threats against Hindus. For the bishop of Bhubanewsar, they are all in together to rid the State of its Christian minority.

    21/08/2009 INDIA
    A year since the anti-Christian pogrom, our strength lies in the cross of Christ, Orissa bishop says
    Sunday 23 August will mark the first anniversary of large scale anti-Christian violence in the State of Orissa, especially in Kandhamal. It all began when Hindu nationalists tried to quench their thirst for vengeance as a result of the death of their spiritual leader Swami Laxamananda Saraswati, killed by Maoists. Mgr Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, talks to AsiaNews about the year that has gone by. The extremists sought “to accomplish their goal of wiping out Christianity. But our mission will continue.” Despite the grief, I “drew immense consolation from people, their faith and their determination to continue as Christians”.

    23/12/2008 INDIA
    Bishop of Orissa: Glory in heaven and peace on earth, including Kandhamal
    The archbishop of Bhubaneshwar emphasizes that Christmas is an occasion of joy even in the refugee camps for persecuted Christians. Amid the sufferings and anguish of more than 50,000 victims, sharing and solidarity have shone from the entire world, the beginning of a new world, a new world order. The reflections of Archbishop Cheenath were gathered by Nirmala Carvalho.

    06/05/2006 INDIA
    Madhya Pradesh: "Social preparation" to counter anti-Christian violence

    This is the view of the chairperson of the state's Christian Forum. The intensified violence against our communities is alarming, the spokesman of the Bishops' Conference told AsiaNews. The anti-conversion law is the tool used by the administration to incriminate and molest us.





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