India: Church begins to assess damage in Orissa

It is an authentic tragedy." These were the words of a statement made to Fides new service by Father Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Indian Catholic Bishops' Conference.

He said that the situation now seems to have calmed down, thanks to the deployment of police forces by authorities, and the Church is trying to perform an initial assessment of the damage from the attacks, which seem to be fairly serious.

Fr Babu told Fides: "The area where the violence was concentrated is no longer accessible: only government and police officials are permitted to enter. Eyewitnesses tell of an unspeakable and senseless violence. In a matter of a few days, thousands of houses and hundreds of churches were destroyed (i.e. anything with a cross became a target). It is obviously not an isolated incident, but a well-organized and well-planned operation. Otherwise, it wouldn't have been so intense."

"We have informed the government and national authorities on the situation and they have been supportive. However, we are extremely concerned and appalled by these events. The Christian who suffered in the attacks, fleeing into the forests, are now staying in refugee camps. The majority of them will not return to their hometowns. They plan to move somewhere else to escape the violence and save their lives."

Fr Babu said the event was "a serious violation of human rights, religious freedom, and the right to life itself," and thus, calls for international intervention.

The Indian Bishops' Communications Office has issued a list of the names of the victims, dead and wounded, and of the places destroyed in the attacks in Orissa, updated on Monday. Fr Babu has confirmed that no Catholic priests or religious have been reported dead, although some have been severely wounded. The community and religion of the 26 who have been reported dead is still undetermined.

Source: Fides

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