By Robin Gomes
Christians in India are marking the 10th anniversary of the brutal violence that Christians of eastern India’s Odisha state faced in 2008, with a Mass in the state capital , Bhubaneswar, on August 25.
Archbishop John Barwa together with the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) are celebrating the 10th anniversary Mass at St Joseph Convent School of Bhubaneswar on the theme, “Reconciliation, Thanksgiving and Grace”.
The anniversary day is dubbed as Kandhamal Day, as most of the violence was perpetrated in the state’s Kandhamal District that comes under the jurisdiction of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar Archdiocese.
However, Arch. Barwa said that many will not be able to come for the Mass in Bhubaneswar on August 25 because of the distance and the current rainy season. But the day will be marked locally at various different levels.
The archbishop told Vatican News that 3 days after the 10th anniversary, Christians are organizing a demonstration to press for their demands.
On August 28 Christians plan to hold a public rally in Phulbani during which they intend to hand a memorandum to the state chief minister Naveen Patnaik, to demand justice and compensation that many victims and their families have been waiting for 10 years now.
But more than all these external manifestations, the archbishop said, Christians are relying on prayers.
Blood of martyrs….
It was under late Archbishop Raphael Cheenath that the August 2008 anti-Christian violence flared up in Kandhamal. Archbishop Barwa who took over in February 2011 noted that in the past 10 years the life of the Church in Odisha and Kandhamal has grown and enriched enormously.
There is greater mutual support between communities and cooperation and unity between the various Christian denominations. This is leading to the social and economic growth and political unity among the faithful.
The faithful are also strengthened spiritually, proving how true the words of the 2nd century Church father, Tertullian are, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.” This is particularly evident in the growth in the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Pursuit of justice
With regard to justice for the those who lost their dear ones, property and livelihood, Archbishop Barwa said that the justice system is slow and takes time.
India’s Supreme Court had ordered more than Rs. 210.5 million in compensation to the victims of the 2008 riots, but the archbishop lamented that only Rs. 150 million has been disbursed. Some 30 percent of the affected people have not received anything. However, Fr. Dibakar Parichha, the director of the archdiocesan legal office together with Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), are pursuing the matter with the chief minister and other authorities who have assured things will be done.
Archbishop Barwa himself has filed a review petition for those who have not received any compensation. Despite the slow pace of justice, the archbishop expressed hope that things are moving.
Efforts are under way in Cuttack- Bhubaneswar Archdiocese to recognized the martyrdom of those who have been killed because of their Christian faith. Archbishop Barwa said gathering evidence of their martyrdom takes a long time because family members, neighbours and eye witnesses are often reluctant to talk fearing for their future.
The archbishop said that the local Church is not so much interested in their beatification and canonization, as getting them recognized as martyrs who died for their faith. Archbishop Barwa has set up a team headed by his former secretary, Fr. Purushottam Nayak, that is gathering evidence regarding the martyrdom.