Letter to Pope Francis: The victims of Kandhamal are 'martyrs of the faith'
Today is the tenth anniversary of anti-Christian pogroms. In 2008 120 Christians died and 300 churches were destroyed. The mother of a raped nun remembers the attack against her daughter.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis should acknowledge that the Christian victims of the 2008 pogroms in Kandhamal, Odisha (Orissa), are "martyrs of the faith", this according to an open letter penned by John Dayal, an Indian activist and former national president of the All India Catholic Union.
Today is the tenth anniversary of the most vicious wave of anti-Christian persecution carried out by Hindu extremists. For Dayal, "the faith of the Kandhamal Christians must be recognised in the way the Church has historically recognised such sacrifice."
In his missive to the pontiff, the activist writes: “We have pressed with the Archbishop of Cuttack Bhubaneswar, with the four Cardinals and the Hierarchy that the dead of the 2008 Kandhamal violence be recognised by the Church as Martyrs of the Faith. That is what they are. Their recognition will, we feel, strengthen the faith of the people of India, especially at a time like the one we are going through.”
John Dayal notes that Mgr John Barwa, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar (which covers Kandhamal) "has formally started the process. [but] It needs a national movement to give it the pace that is required. As the head of our Church, as the Pope, we look upon you and pray that the process be expedited. This will refresh and rejuvenate the Church in India, and strengthen the faith of each one of us.”
In August 2008, Hindu radicals blamed Christians for the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda, leader of the Hindu nationalist group Vishna Hindu Parishad. This accusation led to "second biggest pogrom against Christians. It began on 25th August 2008, and continued for several weeks, led by political gangs, with the state complicit or a helpless witness."
As a result, “over 60,000 children, women and men, old, young, new born and pregnant women, fled into the forest. Later 30,000 of them lived for a year in government refugee camps.”
“Over 400 villages were purged of Christians for almost a year, 6,000 and more houses destroyed, together with over 300 churches and every institution of education, health, hospice that had been built by the clergy and sisters over 50 years. One-twenty people were killed, including Father Bernard Digal, a Dalit and Treasurer of the Archdiocese of Cuttack Bhubaneswar
“There were many other pastors, evangelists and lay preachers who lost their lives by sword, machete, hammer or fire, bravely facing death rather than renounce their faith. Many women were raped, among them a nun.” The latter, Sr Meena Barwa, is the nice of the local archbishop. She was the victim of gang rape in front of the police.
Her mother, Regina, remembers the incident all too well. “I was at home, we were praying after we had heard that people from Kandhamal had run away to the forests and were hiding from the radicals,” she told AsiaNews.
“I was waiting for some news from Meena who was serving at the pastoral centre in Kandhamal. My elder sister phoned me; she was crying and she told me what had happened to Meena. I began to cry loudly and fainted.
“Meena's father also cried so much: ‘How could they do such bad things to my daughter, whom I offered to God?’”
The letter also notes the fate of seven Christians wrongly accused of the murder of the Hindu guru who have been languishing in prison for ten years. "[F]ull justice has eluded the victim-survivors.”
(For the full text of the letter, see attachment)