.- On the third anniversary of the outbreak of massive anti-Christian violence in Orissa state, a local Catholic archbishop has appealed for “peace and tranquility” and the defense of Christians’ rights.
“We Christians want to live in peace in our land. Despite the suffering and the tragedy of 2008, we harbor no hatred or revenge. We will remember the victims of the past, we will entrust to God the present and the future of Orissa,” Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar told Fides news agency.
“Over the past three years, a lot has happened towards reconstruction and dialogue,” he said in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need. “But there are people who are still afraid. There is some progress towards peace and justice but there is still a lot more to be done.”
He tells the faithful to remember two phrases of Jesus: “do not be afraid” and “love your enemies.”
The situation on the ground appears to be uncertain, with police guarding the main churches across the Orissa district of Kandhamal and reports circulating of an upcoming rally by Hindu extremists.
More than 100 people died and 25,000 to 50,000 people fled for their lives in August and September 2008. Over 170 churches and chapels were attacked. The incidents, among the worst anti-Christian violence in modern times, were sparked by the Aug. 23, 2008 killing of political activist Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. There was also an outbreak of violence during Christmas 2007 which caused 3,000 to leave their homes.
Archbishop Barwa said things seem calm, but a number of local groups continue to create problems. They do so by interfering with the construction of Christian homes and churches by blocking building supplies.
There are also “subtle forms of oppression and discrimination” against Christians.
“We have got justice for what happened in Kandhamal but we are a little discouraged. Lower-ranking officials disturb us but the higher-ranking ones are trying their best,” the archbishop said. “Although good words are spoken about the need for justice, they are not always manifested in terms of action.”
Most of those displaced by the violence in 2007 and 2008 have now returned to the district, thanks in large part to the construction of more than 3,700 homes. Over 4,000 homes will have been built by the end of the year.
“My message is clear: we need peace and tranquility – no more violence, no killing. The Christian faithful have the right to be in Kandhamal. They are growing in faith,” said Archbishop Barwa.
The archbishop succeeded Archbishop Rapahel Cheenath in February.
He thanked Aid to the Church in Need for its help in rebuilding churches damaged or destroyed by anti-Christian violence.
“We are all very grateful to those many people who have supported us with their help and their prayers,” he said.
Most of the major parish churches in Kandhamal have been repaired or rebuilt, but many of the smaller village churches and chapels have not.