Bishop Barwa: 10th anniversary of Kandhamal violence, 'an occasion for peace'

The Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar invites everyone to participate in the solemn Mass on August 25th. In 2008, Hindu radicals implemented the most ferocious persecution against Christians ever recorded in India. Special ceremonies scheduled to support "reconciliation, peace and grace". The faith of Christians is strong: "We are grateful to the Lord for the number of faithful continues to grow".

Cuttack-Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) - The tenth anniversary of the violence against Christians in Kandhamal, Orissa "is an opportunity to reaffirm peace and reconciliation among the entire population" says Msgr. John Barwa, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar.

Speaking to AsiaNews he said that ten years ago the district was hit by the most violent anti-Christian pogrom in the history of India. But now, he says, "Christians live in harmony with the faithful of all other religions. This is why we want the event to be an opportunity for reconciliation and sharing, to pray and talk about peace and grace. The Lord will bless each one of us".

On 25 August, the day that commemorates the massacre of Christians in Orissa by Hindu radicals, the archdiocese has planned a solemn Mass "of thanksgiving, reconciliation and grace". To promote the purpose of this meeting,  says the Archbishop, "[on 2 July] we met Orissa chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, the interior minister and other state authorities together with Msgr. Theodore Mascarenhas, general secretary of the Indian Bishops' Conference (Cbci). We appreciate the goodwill shown to us and we have reiterated to the administration that we do not support violence, hatred or divisions".

In August 2008 followers of the murdered radical Hindu cleric Saraswati Laxanananda blamed Christians for his death and unleashed the most violent persecution against the Christian minority that India had ever seen. Overall, the pogrom forced 56,000 Christians to flee, with 5,600 houses and 415 villages raided and set on fire. According to government figures, 38 people were killed and two women raped. Scores of people were injured and permanently maimed. The Church and social activists reported instead the destruction of almost 300 churches, plus convents, schools, hostels and welfare facilities. At least 91 people died, 38 immediately, 41 from injuries sustained in the violence, and 12 in police action. Among those who suffered violence, Fr. Thomas Chellan, director of the pastoral center Divyiajyoti, and Sister Meena Barwa (the archbishop’s niece), who was with him at the time of the attack.

Despite the persecutions, says the archbishop, "we are truly grateful to the Lord because the number of faithful continues to grow and the faith of Christians is strong. We live together as brothers and sisters and we really have good relations with the local administration ". According to Msgr. Barwa, "the Kandhamal district has become a symbol of faith, hope and perseverance for the Church in India, which in turn has received abundant blessings from the sacrifice of the martyrs and suffering of the poor victims."

The meeting with the authorities of Orissa, concludes Msgr. Barwa, "was also an opportunity to remind them of the painful situation of the seven innocent Christians [accused of the murder of the Hindu guru, ed] who have been languishing in prison for 10 years. They assured us that they will take care of the matter and we pray to God so that He can soon give them justice and peace".