Sr Meena: Christmas amid us persecuted Indians, like that Jesus (VIDEO)
Back in 1999, hate-mongering Hindu nationalists killed Fr Arul Dos in the village of Sarat. That did not extinguish the faith of ethnic Ho who celebrate Christmas by singing and dancing all night long. Their life is no different from that in the nativity cave, amid the smell of animals and “fragile lives fraught with danger and insecurity.” Here too, “Jesus comes to give life and hope.”
Mayurbhani (AsiaNews) – This Christmas, the suffering of India’s persecuted Christians was covered for once by India’s big media. But as the readers of this site know, the suffering caused by the violence of Hindu extremists is a daily experience that has been increasing for a long time.
In the latest incident, three Evangelical Christians were reportedly arrested on Sunday in Bicholi, Jabhua district (Madhya Pradesh) for allegedly carrying out “conversions” following accusations levelled by radical right-wing groups.
The history of Indian Christians is one of profound faith. Even more than suffering, it is a life shared with the marginalised, as evinced by the testimony that follows, which comes from a place severely marked by suffering.
In Sarat, Odisha, the persecution is not only today’s news. In 1999 Fr Arul Dos was murdered by fanatics incited by the same groups that still preach hatred against Christians in India today. More than twenty years have passed since then, marked by many more acts of violence.
This has not however extinguished the faith of ethnic Ho, who, like Sister Meena Lalita, superior of the convent of Sarat, experienced Christmas as close to the way the Holy Family of Bethlehem must have experienced it, namely amid poverty and persecution, but aware that Jesus came to give hope.
In the Catholic parish in Sarat, Mayurbhanj district, we have around 700 Catholic families; in our convent we are four sisters. This is a remote village in Odisha, the same parish where Fr Arul Dos, a Catholic priest, was killed with bows and arrows on the night of 1 September 1999 by a right-wing mob.
We have a wonderful ministry in Sarat. We stand by poor people and go to villages and visit families. These are all ethnic Ho, tribal people with their own Ho language. We teach them catechism and prepare them for the sacraments. We also help young women and youth get jobs and become financially independent.
We run a hostel (currently closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown) and offer tailoring classes. We also help educate them about their rights so that they can lead better lives and avail themselves of the various government welfare and improvement schemes.
Ho people lead a simple life, not very different from that in the nativity cave in which the Prince of Peace was born. Tribal villagers face many difficulties.
The cave in which Jesus was born may have smelled from cows who had their fodder and water at night, but Saint Joseph must have cleaned it and put some leftover straw in the manger. He must have cleaned cow dung with his bare hands from one corner of the cowshed and he may not have had water to wash. That means Joseph and Mary too must have smelled. They might have just squeezed themselves among animals in biting cold.
What suffering Mother Mary must have undergone to give birth to her first-born son! After the birth, this poor family had to flee to a foreign land to hide. The misery of this poor family, unnoticed, rejected by all at that time, is the picture I like to draw.
I feel that big decorations, Christmas trees, attractive cribs, and celebrations etc. are not really meaningful and do not bring out the true meaning of Christmas. More meaningful would be to identify a poor widow in one of the villages, someone who hardly has any food, clothing and shelter, and buy her some food and warm clothing to help her a little in this biting cold.
I like to remember all those displaced people, persecuted Christians still living far away from their villages. I know many of them personally.
I remember homeless, hungry, sexually abused women and girls, innocent people behind bars, tribal people and Dalits who are exploited etc. I believe these people too share the suffering and pain of Joseph’s family.
Let the Baby Jesus comfort them and give them divine power to face challenges with courage and live a dignified life.
After Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve, tribal Ho remained, visiting villages, dancing and singing Christmas carols before going home in the morning. Their celebrations are communal.
This Christmas season, it is wonderful to witness God living among poor tribal Ho. In Mayurbhanj district even two decades after the murder of Fr Arul Doss, the faith of the people is very strong. They know that Jesus came as one of them, as a poor babe, in a lowly manger.
Amid fragile lives fraught with danger and insecurities, Jesus came to give life and hope. This is our Christmas, among tribal Ho, Christmas with us.
(Nirmala Carvalho collaborated)