India: Vincentian priest writes from Orissa

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 Vincentian Family News have sent us a personal letter from a priest in Orissa. Extracts follow

... This is just to share with you the stories of pain and sufferings that the Christians are going through in Orissa. It is soul shaking and I am listening to their stories daily and crying with them. Attached herewith is a report to brief you about the situation. You have hurricanes graded into categories. I don't know whether such grading is done for human suffering inflicted by 'human beings'. To be sure it is one of top category and would surprise monsters like Nero, Diocletian and others of our sadistic part of the history in diabolical design and execution. Burning people alive, cutting their bodies into pieces, stabbing pregnant women and rupturing their uterus with a single stroke are but a few of the reported brutalities. How many Christians will survive this manslaughter and endure in their faith is a big question. I am sure that you all would be with us in this crucial time.

More than ever before, Christianity in Orissa state in India is threatened of extinction. The recent attacks on Christians, their missionaries and their institutions in the state lead to no other conclusion. Orissa has already a gory history of recorded and unrecorded persecution of Christians, including the burning alive of Australian leprosy mission worker Graham Stuart Staines and his sons Philip and Timothy, and the brutal Killing of Fr Arul Dos in 1999. Attacks on Christians are well planned with the sole aim of purging away Christianity from the state that has about 2% of Christian population which is less than the national average.

Christmas week of 2007 witnessed one of the worst tragedies of Christians. The Christians in the hill district of Kondamal in the south west of Orissa have suffered much. Some were brutally murdered, more than 610 homes were set afire and 71 Christian institutions including, churches, convents, presbyteries, hostels and medical centres were destroyed. This wasn't to be the end. More tragedy was waiting to happen and on August 24, 2008 tragedy struck again, this time with all its fury and vengeance. On August 23, 2008 a Hindu leader, Swami Laxmananda Saraswati was killed by some unidentified persons. 'If the one killed is Swami Laxmananda, Christians must be his murderers' is the news spread across the region. This was enough to turn the anger of the Anti-Christians towards the Christians completely and go about hunting them to kill or burn alive disregarding anything of human.

What followed was a reign of terror, brutal killings and vandalism targeting Christians only. Some are burned alive, nuns are manhandled, a nun is gang raped, some priests are beaten up to the point of death, and Christian houses are set ablaze. The church buildings are broken into desecrating everything considered holy and sacred before collecting them for burning. Christian institutions are ransacked before they are destroyed and set fire to. Heinous crimes such as these speak of nothing other than an ideology of hatred and violence, nurtured into the most powerful venom ready to be used against Christians by its purveyors. Most painfully, all these happen while the police force is simply looking on tacitly approving if not joining hands with the violent mobs cheering rapaciously.

The trail of casualties and damages left by the sequence of violence has not been assessed correctly. Based on the information available, 28 people have been killed, 26 Christian institutions have been destroyed, some of them fully and 4044 Christian houses are torched to ashes.

The reign of terror continues. Everyday we hear of fresh attacks on churches and killings of Christians. The Christian villages are deserted. They have fled to the forests to save their lives. There is little hope of them returning for the fear of being hunted after and slaughtered .Many are missing. Thousands are languishing in Government operated relief camps without their basic needs met. More than seventy thousand people are displaced. Many are badly injured in the violence and some are battling with death in utter helplessness. As if all that is not enough, something worse is happening.

Forceful attempts to convert Christians to Hindu religion are going on in the relief camps and the region. 'Christians will not be tolerated any more in Kondamal district' is the war cry of the majority Hindu community and with that any hope of creating a situation in which the people can return to their homes and not live in terror, is completely shattered. The days ahead are uncertain and dark with little promise of safety and protection from the Government. More ordeals for the Christians are still awaited.

Relief camps are scenes of misery and squalor. Rains have turned them more filthy and harmful to health. Medical provisions are wanting. Malaria has already got into them claiming at least one death. Cholera/gastroenteritis is likely to break out. Christian volunteers are carefully kept away from the relief camps. Christian missionaries have no access to the area as they are prime targets for torture and killing. We are collaborating as much as we can in reaching some medical assistance which is the need of the hour.

Presently we are helping some families situated in big towns like Berhampur which have opened their small homes generously to shelter those who have escaped from their villages by providing some food stuffs ­ Rice and Dal and some medicine. Here again they are not safe since the hunt for Christians is likely to spread to these places as well. We are thinking of alternatives to shift them to safer places.

However we feel not everything is lost. Expressions of solidarity and concern pouring in are overwhelming. The Christians in India are united and determined to restore and rebuild. Elsewhere in the country, prayer meetings, Masses, fasting are observed along with public protest rallies and campaigns. The message from them all is clear 'We shall overcome' and so we continue with hope in our struggle to heal and restore our life in Christ.
We count on your valuable support, spiritual and material. The immediate need before us now is to purchase food, medicine and cloths for the victims.

Source: Vincentian Family News

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