Father Thomas Chellan is the Indian priest who on 25 August 2008, at the beginning of anti-Christian pogrom in Orissa, was attacked by a group of around 50 Hindu extremists beaten, using clubs, crowbars, axes, spears, wounded and stripped,. With him, a sister suffered the same violence. On 23 May this year he received the "Defensor Fidei" 2009 prize. Established by the foundation "Fides et Ratio" and the Catholic monthly "Il Timone", the prize was awarded to the Indian priest for his testimony of faith. Il In his speech of thanks, Father Thomas said that the Christian faith is the route through which the Dalits and India can develop. He recalled with gratitude the work of the missionaries who preceded him, spreading "the seed of the Universal Church and asked not to look upon to the faithful of Kandhamal with "pity ", but to imitate their faith." AsiaNews asked him for a reflection this Christmas.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) - Christmas is the story of men collaborating with God to fulfill his plan on earth - a savior looking for a saving hand. A number of people take up specific tasks entrusted to them to make possible the coming of god on earth. The angel, Mary, Joseph, Shepherds and king play their role faithfully as god desired. All of them were willing to set aside their works and join hands in god’s plan. Each of them were well instructed about their role it was just enough to do what they were told. It was something like a relay – race, a common mission each of them having a significant role in it. No one refused to accept their responsibility making one or other excuses like ‘ I am very busy ‘or’ I have no time’. They felt involved in god’s mission and enjoyed their role in it. It is the story of god, angel and men communicating to each other. Today in our daily life we experience conflicts, threats and disunity in our families in our church and in the society at large. It is because of the lack of co – operation. When we have it among us we can experience god’s presence amidst us. He is looking for more people to join in his mission.
Christmas is communicating the joy of God’s coming on earth. It is the message that instill hope in the people, not hatred or threat to life. It is seeing what is heard already. The angel announced to the shepherds “ a savior is born” ( LK. 2:11). The shepherds said among themselves, “ let us go Jerusalem and see (LK. 2: 15). They went on communicating this message of joy to others (LK. 2:17) The shepherds did not remain as mere listeners to the angel, they did not remain as spectators rather they became preachers by proclaiming Jesus to other. Now they have a new identify the people who have seen the savior, people flocked to hear them and they were astonished (LK. 2: 17).
True, God did not find a shelter to be born, but he found place in the hearts of men. It is fitting that he was born in a manager, an open place where one can have easy access. Today houses are closed places with people with closed minds, who do not relate to their neighbors or the world outside. The first Christmas continues, the same way even to this day. The media draws our attention to the happenings of the world around us. There are thousands of people who flee their homeland and properties for social religious, racial and linguistic reasons. What about the plight of refugees and migrant laborers? There are many more Josephs and Marys looking for a shelter for their child to be born. Mary and Joseph did not have a planned family, they did not have a steady income, all their calculations were in God alone. Though they could not provide a proper shelter for Jesus, Mary welcomed Him to her womb, allowed Him to be born through her. Today we have well planned families, steady incomes, calculated living conditions, but no place for the lives that would be born. Herod attempted to kill Jesus when he heard that he was born. Today life is stopped or killed even before they are born into this world.
‘Do not be afraid’ is the message of Christmas to the Christian community in Orissa, specially in the Kandhamal district. The angel said to Joseph do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife (Mt. 1: 20). ‘Do not be afraid I am here to give you good news, great joy for all the people’ the angel said to the shepherds. The message of the angel ‘ do not be afraid’ made Joseph to change his mind, the same message strengthened the shepherds to proceed to Bethlehem and returned courageously proclaiming to the people the message that Jesus is born.
The Christian community in Kandhamal district of Orissa, India were the victims of violent attacks against them December 2007 and in August 2008. In the well planned attacks number of people lost their lives, thousands of houses were burnt and properties destroyed, people fled to the forest for security and safety for want of protection from the civil authorities. Almost an year they spent in relief camps. The churches and Christian institutions were burnt down, remain like abandoned properties even to this day.
It is encouraging to note that in the midst of these untold sufferings and uncertain future the Christian community there is marching ahead, holding their faith with courage and conviction. They are getting ready to celebrate Christmas in the temporary structures constructed with bamboos and polythene sheets. Yes, they go ahead with the message of the angel ‘ do not be afraid’. Now the relief camps are demolished , people are back in their villages and trying to rebuild their houses. For them to look back is gloom all around, at the sametime looking ahead is a ray of hope – the joy of Christmas. They see a friend in Jesus who had no home to be born, he and his parents had to flee to Egypt to save his life just as they had to leave everything and take refuge in the forest and relief camps.
As they build their new houses, it is their take ahead to make new relationships and mend the strained relationships with the neighbors. In the Bible we see Abraham going to a new place and Jacob building a new temple, signify renewed experience of god in their life. So also living in the newly constructed houses let them experience a renewed presence of god in Kandhamal district. A god who will radiate his joy and peace to all braking all barriers of caste and creed.
India is a land of religions. It has a long standing history of religious heritage. This is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. People of all religious live in harmony in co – operation and understanding. This is the soul of India. The attack on minorities in various parts of our country in the recent years is the handiwork of certain people for their selfish interests or political gain. This is certainly against the spirit of India. It is the task of every Indian to carry ahead the great tradition of religious co- operation and collaboration, to put an end to the recent violence and chaos in the name of religion.
May this Christmas instill in us courage and conviction to carry the message of Jesus. The church in India is the result of the hardwork of selfless missionaries from abroad and India. In the midst of violence and various disturbances we cannot fail in one mission. The message is clear ‘Do not be afraid!’.