The Catholic archdiocese of eastern India’s Odisha state is planning to build a memorial this year for those killed in the state in the worst anti-Christian violence in modern India. “Many priests, religious and lay people have suggested a memorial especially for the Kandhamal martyrs. This has been discussed at various levels and it is gradually taking concrete shape,” Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar told Matters India January 1. “We pray that this process hastens,” the Divine Word prelate said. Kandhamal district in Odisha state was the scene of unprecedented attacks on Christians in 2007 and 2008. The violence in 2008 lasted for nearly four months and claimed more than 90 lives and rendered more than 50,000 people homeless.
The proposed memorial is likely to come up at the premises of Divya Jyoti (divine light) Pastoral Centre, K. Nuagam in Kandhamal, some 215 km west of Bhubaneswar, the state capital. Hindu nationalist groups had ransacked and torched the center during the anti-Christian persecution in August 2008. The attackers brutally attacked its director Fr. Thomas Chellan and gang raped a nun there.
During the year, Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar Archdiocese will also focus on faith formation, education and peace promotion, besides bringing various communities together and reaching out to civil administration. In a pastoral letter on Dec. 15, Archbishop Barwa sought suggestions from priests, religious and laity on how to implement these plans.
In a related development, Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias has said he wants the Church in India to initiate a process to declare those killed during the anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal as martyrs. The prelate who is Archbishop of Bombay said he has spoken to the Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints regarding this. “I am willing to speak personally about Kandhamal violence and its martyrs to Pope Francis, whenever there is an opportunity,” Cardinal Gracias told Matters India December 28. Cardinal Gracias is part of the 9-member Council of Cardinals hand-picked by Pope Francis to advise him on the reform of the Catholic Church’s central administration in the Vatican.
During the National Eucharistic Congress of India held in Mumbai, Nov. 12-15, Card. Gracias was profoundly moved hearing the testimony of one of the victims of the 2008 violence, Kanak Rekha Nayak who witnessed her husband being chopped into pieces by Hindu extremists for not giving up his faith. Cardinal Gracias said he had met Kanak Rekha and other victims earlier in 2011 in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneshwar, asking how he could help them. And the request of Kanak Rekha was, “Can our husbands be declared martyrs by the Church?” Cardinal Gracias commended the genuine faith of these simple Christians. (Source: Matters India)