Fr Thomas Chellan, 58, was the director of the Divyajyoti Pastoral Centre, in the diocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar. On 25 August 2008, two days after the pogrom began, a group of 50 Hindu extremists, armed with sticks, crowbars, axes and spears stripped him and beat him up. A nun who was with him was given the same treatment, perhaps even worse. Injured, the two could have been set on fire, covered in gasoline. Only when police moved in did the attack stop; however, until that point law enforcement seemed to be siding with the violent mob.
Since then, the local legal and political systems appear to have ignored the real perpetrators of the attacks against the Christian community. Only light sentences (two years) have been imposed on the two people tried for the crime; ten others were released. Sister Meena who was brutally raped had to be moved out of the district because of systematic harassment.
Love, Fr Thomas said, “claims no rights. It exists to serve as Jesus taught. Priests, missionaries or lay people can meet their Calvary anywhere they go. When we respond to His invitation to follow in His footsteps and imitate him, we find true life. In our situation, however deplorable it may be, we must accept Calvary and walk along its path. This way, our cross becomes meaningful.”
Speaking about justice in the district where he was persecuted, Fr Chellan said, “Of course, I am discouraged when people, wherever they are in India, do not find justice, not even after 11 months. In Sister Meena’s case, we still do not know how long it will take. In such times, I find consolation in the cross, Christ’s forgiveness and the Virgin’s gift of Jesus to humanity. Mary gives me strength to walk in her son’s footsteps.”
Presently, the clergyman is not in Orissa for health and legal reasons. “I miss my flock. Even though people are good here, I feel homesick for Kandhamal, especially at Easter. Here I feel an outsider,” he said. “I have to stay here but my heart is with my people and my mission. The only path is through Jesus and his Calvary. Christ’s Passion is not a path of pain, but one of hope.”