Odisha: Mgr Barwa remembers Graham Staines and the ‘ecumenism of blood’
The Australian missionary and his 10- and 6-year-old sons were burnt alive as they slept in his car. The clergyman helped lepers, the poor, Dalits and tribal people. For the Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, the country urgently needs unity. The murders’ anniversary falls during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Today is the 21st anniversary of the death of Graham Staines, a missionary from Australia, who was burnt alive along with his sons Philip and Timothy, 10 and 6 respectively, after Hindu radicals set fire to the car in which they were sleeping.
Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar (Odisha) stressed the pastor’s “message of love, which he showed through his works for everyone, especially the last, the least and the lost, lepers, tribal people, Dalits.” Hence, “we are called to keep his message alive.”
The prelate noted that Staines’ murder at night on 22-23 January 1999 was a prelude to the anti-Christian violence that was unleashed in Kandhamal (Odisha) during the summer of 2008.
“The ecumenism of Blood witnessed in Kandhamal” was like that of Jesus who “shed his blood for everyone, and everyone bearing the name of Christ,” the archbishop explained.
In August 2008, an anti-Christian pogrom broke out in Odisha after a Hindu cleric was murdered. Although perpetrated by Maoist rebels, Christians were blamed, triggering a wave of violence that saw about a hundred people killed.
“The extremists did not differentiate between Catholic or Baptist, Pentecostal or any other Christian denomination,” said Mgr Barwa. “Everyone was persecuted for being Christian, for our faith and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The anniversary of Staines’ murder comes as Indian Christians observe the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It also comes at a time in which “selfishness has corrupted the human heart.”
Sadly, for the prelate, “Human beings have become more and more self-centred and cruel.” And “the cruelties inflicted on human beings by fellow human beings are a sign of depravity.”
“Such self-centredness results in the lack of progress and development for the human person.” The net effect is that “Our country risks being divided along sectarian lines, and is in urgent need of strong solidarity and unity.”
Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) and an Orthodox Christian, spoke to AsiaNews about Graham Staines.
He remembers the pastor as someone who, “for 34 years, showed unusual kindness in Baripada, Odisha, [living] among Tribals and lepers. He worked among lepers in Odisha in remote rural areas without discrimination.
“Regrettably, 21 years on, hate crimes against religious minorities are peaking again, and the country is becoming polarised along religious lines.”
For the Christian leader, “Unity among Christian Churches is of vital importance today especially as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) will affect millions who risk being declared ‘illegal immigrants’.”
Far too many people have been “banished for years to detention centres, stripped of their citizenship rights, including the right to vote and own property. In plain words, [the state] has the power to disenfranchise people.”