10/13/2008, 00.00
INDIA - VATICAN
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Church burned in Bangalore. Christians of Orissa comforted by pope's prayers

by Nirmala Carvalho
The canonization of the first Indian saint is not stopping the violence, but is strengthening the Christians in their suffering and hope. The words of the bishop of Bhubaneshwar and Sr. Karuna, of the Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit

Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - A few hours after the canonization of the first Indian saint, and Benedict XVI's expression of closeness to the sufferings of the Christians in the country, a church has been burned, the church of St. Anthony in Yedavanahalli, near Bangalore (Madya Pradesh). In recent weeks, other churches have been targeted in the state, following the campaign of violence launched by radical Hindus at the end of August, starting from the district of Kandhamal in Orissa.

The list of victims in the attack continues to rise: 61 dead, 18,000 wounded; 181 churches razed or destroyed; 4,500 homes belonging to Christians burned; more than 50,000 displaced, of whom more than 30,000 have disappeared into the forests.

The canonization of the first Indian saint, Sr. Alfonsa of the Immaculate Conception, presided over by Benedict XVI yesterday at the Vatican, is bringing great comfort to the Christians, especially in this moment of explicit persecution.

Speaking with AsiaNews, Raphael Cheenath, bishop of Bhubaneshwar (Orissa), clarified that this "is a moment of great encouragement for the Christians in India, and especially for the Christians in Kandhamal. St. Alphonsa is an inspiration for all us now, more than ever, during these difficult times. St. Alphonsa suffered in her life and remained steadfast in her love for Christ, and this gave her the strength to endure such suffering."

"The life St Alphonsa," the prelate continues, "renews for us and for the Church in Kandhamal and India that God is with us. We are filled with hope that the Church of God will go on, and continue and will accomplish her mission - to proclaim the Good News. In the history of the Church, there has always been different levels of persecution, and in spite of obstacles the Church remains the beacon of truth and salvation, and the history of the Church in Kandhamal is walking in the same footsteps as the history of the universal Church.”

Sr. Karuna, of the Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit , continues the comparison: "The Kandhamal Christians share their faith with St Alphonsa. In her own life, she had nothing, her only possession was Christ, and this is exactly the same situation in Kandhamal, their have no possessions left, yet they cling to their faith and hope in Jesus."

Sr. Karuna was among the first to be struck by the violence in Orissa. She has spent several weeks living in the refugee camps set up by the government, seeking to comfort the wounded and fearful Christians. But she cannot wear her religious habit: she has had to dress like the local women, because the government is monitoring the refugee camps to make sure there is no "Christian proselytism." "St. Alphonsa's life runs parallel to the life of Kandhamal Christians," the sister continues, "she lived a humble quite life in a small village in Kerala, and her sufferings were united with the suffering of Christ, here too our Kandhamal Christians are the same, simple people, living ordinary lives, yet having to suffer for bearing his name. For this reason, I praise the pope for canonizing her yesterday. Yesterday, Pope Benedict with his tender and gentle love encouraged us with his words that he is praying for us. This is the heart of the Church. Such tenderness, our sufferings are known to him."

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