Orissa: missionary eyewitness account

  The Missionary News Service, MISNA, has sent the following report after speaking by phone with the priest who is in hospital in Sambalpur.

Father Sequiera said that men armed with sticks and blades burst into the lunch hall in the afternoon shouting claims that the Christians "killed Swami Laxamanananda, we shall kill their priests".

Father Sequiera set up the orphanage in Bargarh eight years ago. Originally from Karnataka, Fr Sequiera stressed that the orphanage was well received by the local people, Hindus included, and that it was very involved in the rehabilitation of lepers and supportive of the marginalized casts such as the 'Dalit' (the 'Untouchables').

Hindu radicals often try to recruit these Dalits for their own, and sometimes nefarious, purposes, he said.

A 20 -year-old girl, Rajani came to warn Fr Sequiera that people were coming to kill him. If she had run away.perhaps she might still be alive now" he said. Rajani was burned alive.

Fr Sequiera noted that she was not even a Christian: "she came to live in the orphanage at the age of 15. The family that took care of her could no longer afford to do so. She attended college in Pudampur and helped other children in the afternoon with their homework".

Sequiera was attacked by the intruders after he asked them to leave and not to hurt the children. He was dragged to his office and witnessed the attackers spread gasoline on a pile of clothes and setting them ablaze. They left him locked up in the room. He managed to put the fire out by reaching for water from the nearby bathroom, but then fell unconscious.

Outside a tragedy was unfolding. Eyewitnesses reported that the extremists set fire to other rooms of the orphanage, in which there were 19 children and teenagers.

Rajani tried to rescue the children, opening the doors to let everyone out. She was captured and tied up. She cried for help but was thrown into the flames and died.

When the police arrived the found Fr Sequiera and took him hospital. He is still unable to move or breathe properly because of his injuries.

He said: "The authorities have taken the children to other orphanages for the time being. Rajani was full of life. She enjoyed studying and using computers. She was driven by a great desire to help others; we were looking for ways to send her to university: she wanted to be a nurse" .

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