India Prelates Say They're Proud of Their Flocks

Laud Strength of Faith in Midst of Persecution

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BALASORE, India, NOV. 6, 2008 ( Six Indian prelates are expressing their admiration and pride for the faithful of their communities, who have persevered in faith despite a wave of anti-Christian violence.

In a statement last week, the prelates said they wanted to “pay homage to those brothers and sisters who have laid down their lives for the sake of their faith, to comfort those who have been injured, to be with those who have been traumatized by the violence and mayhem […], to do everything in our ability to ensure rehabilitation of those who have lost their houses, property, churches, institutions etc, to stand by those whose rights have been violated, and to assure that justice will be done.”

The pastoral letter comes after months of violence against Christians at the hands of Hindu extremists. Several Christians, including a priest, have been killed and thousands have fled their homes.

The statement is signed by Bishop Thomas Thiruthalil of Balasore; Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar; Bishop Alphonse Bilung of Rourkela; Bishop Lucas Kerketta of Sambalpur; Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur; and Coadjutor Bishop John Barwa of Rourkela.

Root cause

Though Hindu-Christian tension in India is nothing new, the current wave was sparked in late August when a Hindu leader was killed and Christians were successively blamed.

The bishops, however, emphatically deny any Christian involvement in the slaying, and contend that the real cause of anti-Christian violence is a hunger for power.

“We understand the factors and forces behind violence against Christians,” the prelates wrote. “The Church has been standing by the side of the poor and the marginalized. Through education, health, housing and employment programs, the Church has been bringing in awareness and awakening among the vulnerable communities. They in turn are demanding their rights. This is not liked by the powers that are, since they fear their position being challenged by the poor people. Hence, they have taken to violence. But we condemn this and restate our resolve to continue the services of the Church.”

The bishops lauded the faithful for their strength in the face of the violence.

“We are humbled by your strong adherence to your faith and by your trust in Jesus Christ as the Saviour and Lord,” they said. “We are humbled by your willingness to go through all kinds of humiliations, trials and even persecutions for the sake of your belief. We are proud of you for your ability to withstand all forms of intimidations and threats. We pray with you for the continued strength from Jesus our Saviour and Lord so that we all may continue to carry forward his mission of compassion, love, unity, justice and peace.”

They also expressed appreciation for the interreligious support offered to the Christians of India.

They affirmed their “gratitude to people of all religions of Orissa and India, who in spite of the efforts by the fundamentalist forces and some political parties to divide them and create conflict between them, upheld the Indian traditions of communal harmony and national integrity. As always, we promise to continue our tradition of communal harmony and collective destiny.”

Miserable failure

The six prelates had harsh words, though, for the state and federal government, and the “tardy manner” in which officials have responded to the violence.

“We are sorry to state that both these governments have failed miserably in discharging their constitutional obligations,” they said. “Hence, we call upon them to use all the powers bestowed on them by the Constitution of the country and ensure that peace and harmony prevail in the area and that the guilty be punished and the affected people be protected and adequately compensated.”

Finally, the prelates said that like Christ, they “pray for the perpetrators of crime. We pray with you that the Holy Spirit may give his wisdom and courage to the officials, government machinery and the governments to act immediately and to act in a non-partisan manner and bring life to normalcy for all in Orissa. We also pray with you that the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus may strengthen us in this time of crisis so that we may continue to live our Christian life in this country without any hesitation.”

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