India: Christians pray for peace on anniversary of Orissa violence


Christians have organized prayers in several parts of India to mark the first anniversary of anti-Christian violence in Orissa that left 90 people dead and displaced more than 50,000.

Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi, who led a prayer program in New Delhi, noted tension still prevails in the eastern Indian state. He urged the state and federal governments to help restore peace there.

Around 200 attended the program yesterday organized by the ecumenical National United Christian Forum, of which Archbishop Concessao is president.

It comprised readings from the Bible, intercessory prayers and hymns in Oriya, the main language of Orissa. The forum urged the authorities to bring justice to victims.

Violence in Orissa began the day after Maoists gunned down Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a Hindu religious leader, and four associates in Kandhamal district on 23 August, 2008.

Hindus blamed Christians for the murders and went on a campaign of often brutal violence, particularly in Kandhamal, that lasted four months.

Archbishop Concessao said he wants the Orissa government to bring justice, relief and rehabilitation to those who cannot return to their homes for fear of further attacks.

The prelate also called for the arrest of the attackers, who he said enjoy impunity from law and move freely around Kandhamal, threatening Christians.

The gathering called for a probe into the forced conversion of Christians to Hinduism and the prosecution of perpetrators among the 12 demands and recommendations it approved to send to the Orissa government.

It also called for police to help victims prepare proper reports about the violence, for immediate implementation of a witness protection program to help victims testify in court and for the deployment of more officers to expedite court cases.

The New Delhi group also urged the government to set up village peace committees representing people from all religions as well as a commission for minorities in Orissa, and to repeal Orissa's law on religious conversions.

Father Dominic Emmanuel, spokesperson of Delhi archdiocese, told UCA News that Christians believe in the power of prayer. The perpetrators of violence also "need our prayer," the Divine Word priest said.

John Dayal, social activist and one of the speakers, said that one year after the trauma began, not much has been done to give justice to the people. He hoped the anniversary would remind Christians of the need to continue to pray for their brothers and sisters in faith in Orissa.

Bishop Simon John of Believer Church said the Orissa "martyrs" are "an encouragement for us" since they died for their faith.

Meanwhile, Christians in Orissa began the anniversary commemorations on Aug. 23 with prayers in several parts of the state.

S. Parichha, an activist from Raikia in Kandhamal, said the anniversary passed uneventfully with people praying for peace and harmony.

Father Laxmikant Pradhan, parish priest of Balliguda, also in the district, said his parishioners organized a four-hour adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Sister Suma, regional superior of the Missionaries of Charity, said she joined Mass and adoration in Sankrakhol parish, where a priest was attacked during the violence.

Source: UCAN

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