A year since the anti-Christian pogrom, our strength lies in the cross of Christ, Orissa bishop says
by Raphael Cheenath
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”.
Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) – Through this dark period in the history of Kandhamal, the consolation which gave me strength was that God's providence was guiding us. I was deeply anguished and pained at the intense brutality and inhumanities our people were subjected to; yet in the face of all this persecution they remained faithful witnesses to His name.

There were moments when there were no answers to the cries and laments of our people; these were times of great distress. But I drew immense consolation from people, their faith and their determination to continue as Christians. For me this was personally very encouraging.

Now one year has passed. Many of our people are still in camps; many more have been displaced to neighbouring towns and states, but a good number of them have returned to their homes. There are still threats to our people; there are pockets of fundamentalists' resistance to rebuilding of churches and houses, and there is also at times lethargy in the administration, but still I can say that progress has been made.

Our religious were specific targets of the fundamentalists’ agenda, who unleashed their sadistic brutality on our priests and nuns. The latter have selflessly toiled and served the poor and the marginalised of this land, without any discrimination . . . . Our educational and other mission works have empowered the poorest and weakest people of the place, and yet they were battered mercilessly by fundamentalist mobs. Our Father Bernard even succumbed to the beatings.

However, this is a time to reflect on our own vocation as priests. We who have answered the call to serve, must reflect on the new developments in the world and the new challenges in our ministry. Ultimately we have to deepen our faith and seek spiritual nourishment in order to be faithful ministers. This vocation for the priesthood, especially in the Year for Priests, gives us grace and invites us to be consumed in serving God’s people.

The fundamentalists will never give up; they will continue in their agenda and seek to accomplish their goal of wiping out Christianity. But our mission will continue—persecution will not stop us. The Cross of Christ is our strenght, our hope and our joy..

As long as hard core criminals are free to move around, emboldened by the inaction of those whose duty it is to protect the minority, attacks like those on our vulnerable and innocent people will continue.

We have called for August 23rd to be a ‘Day for Peace and Harmony’, because the murder of Swami Laxmananada Saraswati and anti-Christian violence must never happen again. The world must known peace and harmony and we must fight the trends that lead to such extreme crimes. Violence and bloodshed will only bring about the destruction of humanity; for this reason, we must seek to work for love which means working for peace.

We are grateful to our beloved Holy Father, who firmly condemned the violence in Orissa. To hear that Pope Benedict XVI was praying for Kandhamal was a moment of great consolation; so was the knowledge that people of good will around the world were showing their solidarity to the people of Kandhamal for their suffering.

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to the article)