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ORISSA AGONY:-

Does any religion allow this – Is this not Terrorism?
Keeping quite about it will not help – We Christians are very peaceful people, and do not retaliate, we Christians are willing to die as Martyrs, however, are these people willing to face God and justify their actions? Raise your voices, against the atrocities committed, in the name of religion.

I am an Indian, and am proud of being a Catholic Indian.

Attached are few pictures of violence against Christians in Orissa. Reports received that thousands of Christian homes were burned down, many were brutally murdered and many are living away in remote unknown hide outs, without food and clothes to change. Many are living in the shelters.

Please pray for our country and those who are suffering.

In Orissa Christians treated worse than animals, says Father Bernard

“The attack on Christians in Orissa was an attack against the sacredness and dignity of human life. The world must know this,” said Fr Bernard Digal. “In some countries even animals have rights and laws. In Kandhmal we were treated worse than animals. Every possible indignity, obscenity and torture was meted out against helpless Christians. Men, women, children; everyone was targets of brutal atrocities.”

Fr Bernard Digal is the treasurer of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar. He spoke to AsiaNews about his pain over what is happening in Orissa. He, too, was wounded, beaten for hours by radical Hindus, left for a whole night unconscious, half naked, in the forest, until he was found by his driver. Now he is in the intensive care unit in Mumbai’s Holy Spirit Hospital.

During his talk with AsiaNews he was given another unit of blood. But his thoughts were with his people and family, all forced to flee to save their lives, now stranded in a refugee camp near Bhubaneshwar.

“My heart is filled with gratitude because God saved my life. But whilst I am being treated here my people are hiding in the forest and even there, there is no security,” he said. “There are mothers breast-feeding their infants, children, young and old people, all hanging on a precarious thread, in terror. Even refugee camps are not free of dangers.”

“I was visiting the parishes in Kandhamal district exactly on 23 August when Swami Laxamananda Saraswati and four of his followers were killed by Maoists. On 25 August, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other radical Sangh Parivar groups decided to go on a dawn-to-dusk strike, bringing thousands of people together.”

On the 25 Father Bernard went to visit Father Alexander Chandi in Sankrakhol Parish when a Hindu mob attacked the latter’s church.

“On the night of 25 August the parish church and the priest’s house were sacked and set on fire. From far away we could hear the crowd shouting hate-filled slogans, levelling accusations against Christianity. . . . Fearing for our lives we fled into the forest.”

“The extremists also set my car on fire,” Father Bernard said. “Whilst Father Alexander stayed in the forest I went looking for some relatives who were in the area. I walked at least 15 kilometres. At one point the extremists caught me and beat be with iron rods, lances, axes and big stones. I don’t know for how long they beat me because I lost consciousness. My driver found me the next day, after ten hours, and I was taken to hospital. It is only there that I regained consciousness.”

Without acrimony but also without any warmth, Father Bernard said: “I was beaten and left naked in the forest for ten hours. Others were cut to pieces or burnt alive. Is all this human? Or is it an attack against life itself?”

“In Kandhamal the lives of Christians are under attack from Hindutva radicals,” the priest said. “The police and the government are incapable of doing anything about it. Sometimes they are not even willing to take preventive measures to contain these forces who are destroying our life and dignity.”

Even though there are still tensions and fear, the situation is getting back to normal in Orissa, said Fr Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference of India.

Still refugee camps need tighter controls to prevent Hindu radicals from infiltrating them. The wounded require medical treatment. And everyone is wondering when they can go back to rebuild their homes.

Orissa: no peace for Christians even in refugee camps

There is no end to the tension in Orissa, where for two weeks a pogrom has been underway against Christians. Many of the faithful who have taken shelter in the refugee camps after their homes were destroyed and burned have found themselves threatened in the camps as well, where they should be protected by the police. The threats come from the Hindu radicals of the VHP (Viswa Hindu Parishad) and of the RSS (Rastriya Swyamsevak Sangh), who force the tribals to convert back to Hinduism, or suffer new violence. Some of the priests and their relatives have also been threatened, and as a sign of their “reconversion”, they are shaved bald like sadhus (Hindu ascetics).

According to accounts sent to AsiaNews from Bhubaneshwar, the fundamentalist groups are also spreading through the villages and forcing the Christians to sign papers saying that they are “freely” returning to Hinduism. Those who refuse are beaten, and their homes are burned.

Sometimes – sources tell AsiaNews – as a sign of their “new life”, they are forced to burn the churches and homes of other Christians.

And the destruction itself is becoming more “intelligent”. Sometimes, instead of burning homes, the fundamentalists content themselves with taking all of the furniture and objects out of it, and destroying them. In this way, they say, they make the families poor and exclude them from reimbursement by the government, which has promised money for those who have had their homes burned. This method is also useful in case the fundamentalists are arrested by the police: arson is punishable with years in prison, but the distraction of objects with only a few months.

In the area of Kandhamal, a list has been drawn up of Catholic priests and pastors accused of being the killers of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, the radical Hindu leader killed last August 23 by Maoist guerrillas, whose death the Hindus continue to blame on the Christians.

Orissa: six more churches set on fire, hundreds of homes destroyed

The anti-Christian pogrom in the state of Orissa shows no signs of a let-up. In the past three days six churches have been attacked, set on fire and destroyed; hundreds of Christian-owned houses have been devastated and then torched. The number of refugees and missing people is rising.

According to reports that have reached AsiaNews from the diocese of Bhubaneshwar, the Catholic church in Padunbadi was attacked last night, plundered and torn down. Even the church wall was razed to the ground. The Catholic church in the village of Kakadabadi was also attacked yesterday and torched.

On Monday the Baptist church in Durgaprasad, the Catholic church in Chadiapally, and both the Catholic and Baptist churches in Balligada were set on fire and destroyed.

Also on Monday at 4 pm the Catholic church in Mondasore, a heritage building dating back to more than a century ago, was attacked, plundered and then set on fire. The residence and car of the parish priest, Jugal Kishore Digal, saw the same fate.

Rabindra Parichha, from the village of Bhaliapada, which is part of Mondasore Parish, blames police, blames police inaction.

“I had called the district control room and asked for the security force and also faxed a letter explaining the danger for the Mondasore Parish,” he said. “In spite of this my Parish church was attacked and destroyed.”

In an attempt to wipe out Christians and stop conversions radical Hindus have attacked and torched Christian homes. Just in the last three days two houses were set on fire and destroyed in Raikia; 50 in Balligada; three in Kakadabadi; 35 in Tikabali (Beheragano); five in Chakapad and one in G. Udayagir.

Most Christians have fled into the forest or found refuge in makeshift shelters set up by the government; others are facing retaliations and threats.

Christians in the village of Padani have bee forced to carry out Hindu ceremonies and have received threats if they dare practice Christianity.

Meanwhile in New Delhi the Supreme Court, after being petitioned by Mgr Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Bhubaneshwar, asked the government of Orissa to report on the anti-Christian violence.

The state government is suspected of letting radical Hindus meet disregarding security concerns.

A government adviser said the government had no knowledge of the meetings and the current situation was “under control”.

Orissa: thousands of refugees and new victims, massacre of Christians continues

One week after the beginning of the violence in Orissa, thousands of people, most of them Christian, are still hiding in the forests or have found refuge in the shelter camps set up by the government.

According to the latest figures, there are at least 6,000 people in the refugee camps, and 5,000 hiding in the forests around Kandhamal, but the number of refugees could soon reach 10,000. Today, in Bhubaneswar, a protest demonstration is planned in front of the state government headquarters in Orissa, organized by the activists of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), following the closing of Catholic schools yesterday all over India. About 25,000 institutes closed their doors, while the students and teachers marched peacefully through the streets of the country calling for an end to the violence against Christians.

Meanwhile, the number of victims of the violence continues to increase: “We have received authentic information that the death toll is 100”, says Dr Sajan George, national president of the GCIC, “and more butchered bodies and burnt corpes are being found”. The Christian activist is also calling for the resignation of the entire government of Orissa, which is incapable of stopping the massacres against the Christian community. He provides an example: “In Bakingia, two families of seven Christians – Daniel Naik and Michael Naik and their families – were tortured and killed, their bodies were found with their heads pulped and smashed, they were recognised by their clothes. Bakingia is about 8 kilometers from Raikia police station”.

The decision to close all of the Catholic schools yesterday and call for demonstrations – although peaceful – has raised attention, with serious new accusations being issued by the Hindu side. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the leading opposition party in India, heavily influenced by the fundamentalists, has condemned yesterday’s school strike and accused the Catholics of “forcing non-Christian students to participate in the protest marches”. Some institutes used “coercive means” – according to the BJP – against the “non-Christians, who were obliged to march with their classmates”.

Meanwhile, raids continue outside of Orissa as well. Yesterday, in Madhya Pradesh, fanatics attacked five schools and a church, in retaliation against the closing of the buildings. The attacks took place in the districts of Gwaliar (three schools and a church) and Barwani (two schools), and only the swift intervention of the police was able to prevent serious damage to the buildings, or new victims. Security forces have, on the other hand, blocked a peaceful demonstration of the students from the school of St. Francis, for unspecified reasons of “public safety”, although they were informed about the demonstration beforehand.

The Indian bishop of Vasai, Thomas Dabre, a member of the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue, confirms instead the “total paralysis” in the activity of the schools of his diocese. “Thousands of young people”, the prelate emphasizes, “ended their march in front of the buildings of the bishop’s residence. I told them to promote interreligious dialogue, and to and trust themselves completely to the protection of the Virgin Mary”.

Pope: In India, religious and civil authorities must work to stop the violence

The pope condemns “with firmness every attack on human life, the sacredness of which demands the respect of all”, and expresses solidarity for the Christian victims of the violence in Orissa, addressing an appeal “to the religious leaders and the civil authorities” of India, to “work together to reestablish among the various communities the peaceful coexistence and harmony that have been a distinctive mark of Indian society”. Benedict XVI spoke out personally today, at the end of the general audience, on the dramatic situation in Orissa, after the Vatican yesterday expressed its concern and condemnation of what is taking place.

The pope expressed “profound sadness” over the news of the “violence against the Christian communities of the Indian state of Orissa”, and also over the “deplorable assassination of the Hindu leader Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati”, after which the violence broke out in Orissa, where “some people have already been killed, and others wounded”, in addition to which “there has been destruction of places of worship, Church property, and private homes”. “I express”, he concluded, “spiritual closeness to the brothers and sisters so harshly tested, and I implore the Lord to accompany and support them in this time of suffering, and give them the strength to continue in the service of love on behalf of all”.

During the audience, which was again held at the Vatican after a hiatus beginning on July 2, the pope announced that he would resume his reflection on the Pauline Year, which he began before the summer. Today, he sketched a biography of the apostle to the gentiles, leaving the subject of his conversion, “the fundamental turning point of his life”, until next Wednesday.

Benedict XVI first highlighted that Paul – born in Tarsus, probably in the year 8 – “spoke Greek, even though he had a name of Latin or Roman origin”. He was “a meeting point of three cultures” – Jewish, Greek, and Roman – “and perhaps for this reason as well was able to mediate between cultures, in a true universality”.

Paul was educated in Jerusalem by the rabbi Gamaliel, “according to the strictest norms of the Pharisees”, for which reason he believed in a “profound orthodoxy that saw a risk, a threat in the man called Jesus”. “This explains the fact that he clearly persecuted the Church of God. He was on the road to Damascus precisely in order to prevent the spread of this sect, as he himself said”. From that moment, the persecutor of Christianity “became a tireless apostle of the Gospel, and passed into history for what he did as a Christian, or rather as an apostle”.

The pope then recalled his apostolic activity, which “is subdivided on the basis of the three missionary voyages, to which is added a fourth, when he was taken to Rome as a prisoner”. Among the various moments in Paul’s life, Benedict XVI recalled his famous speech in the agora in Athens: “In the ancient cultural capital, he preached to the pagans and Greeks. In the agora, he gave a model speech for explaining to the Greeks that this God is not foreign and unknown, but one they had been waiting for, the deepest response to their anticipation”.

In conclusion, Saint Paul “dedicated himself to the proclamation of the Gospel, without holding anything back”, making himself, as he wrote, “the servant of all, confronting harsh trials”. “I do everything”, he said, “for the sake of the Gospel”. “This commitment”, the pope said, “can be explained only by a soul that is enraptured with the light of Christ”, by the conviction that “it is truly necessary to proclaim the light of Christ to the world, to give a glimpse of the beauty and necessity of the Gospel for all of us”. “Let us ask”, he concluded, “that the Lord may show his light to us as well, and that we may also give the world the light of the Gospel, the truth of Christ”.

Orissa: burning and looting continues, Christians beaten and cut to pieces

Burning, looting, manhunts and violence against women continue today in the state of Orissa as the curfew imposed by the government is expanded from the district of Kadhamal to other cities. Police are ordered to shoot on sight.

Only now the death of a Catholic man in the village of Tiangia has come to light. After he was killed Vikram Nayak he was cut to pieces. Two other people close to him were so seriously beaten up and hurt that they died two days later.

The murder took place last Sunday evening at the end of the funerals of radical Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati whose assassination was blamed on Christians.

Christian homes in Tiangia were torched and families forced to flee into the forests. They were however pursued and attacked by extremists.

Sister Karuna, a nun with the order of the Precious Blood, was one of the first to be hit. Speaking to AsiaNews, she confirmed that “burning and looting were continuing this morning. Women are being molested and brutalised and extremists are doing what they want with them.”

Sister M. Suma, from the Sisters of Mother Teresa, said that ‘Christian villages are being razed to the ground. Terrified, Carmelite nuns have had to flee their convent to find shelter in the woods.”

Rumours that extremists from other states are coming to Orissa to help local radicals have also been confirmed. Hindu supremacists from Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra have converging in the district of Kandhamal.

Some Protestant Christians have said the government of the state of Chhattisgarh is helping paramilitary groups to reach Orissa to attack Christians.

Attacks continue in spite of the curfew and the presence of anti-riot units. Police yesterday killed four radical Hindus as hundreds of others attacked the village of Barakhama. Law enforcement agents can shoot on sight those who violate the curfew.

Fresh attacks and burning were reported in Baliguda, Udaygiri and Raikia.

Orissa’s government has come under criticism by Indian political leaders and leading public figures for being slow in enforcing law and order.

Some people suspect that it wants to cover up the violence perpetrated by Hindu extremists. On the day violence first broke out with looting, killing and fires, Home Secretary Tarunkanti Mishra told journalists the demonstrations organised by the Sangh Parivar after Swami Laxmanananda’s death were “almost entirely peaceful.”

Sangh Parivar is an umbrella group of Hindu nationalist associations, including paramilitary groups linked to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Sr M Suma, from the Missionaries of Charity, appealed to AsiaNews. “Please, let the whole world that we should love one another-we are al children of the same Father.”

Elsewhere male and female missionaries of Charity have had stone thrown at them; one of their orphanages and one of their hospitals have been damaged. The same has happened to the vehicles they use to transport the sick and ill.

In light of the situation Catholic schools across India have decided to close down next Friday as a protest against the anti-Christian violence in Orissa. For that day the Indian Church is planning a day of prayer and fasting in solidarity with Orissa’s persecuted Christians.