The cardinal described the Jesuit priest’s incarceration as “very painful,” adding that he worked “single-mindedly for the poor.”
The Archdiocese of Ranchi, where the Jesuit priest served for many years, described Fr. Swamy as “a champion of tribal rights, a fighter for justice and a symbol of courage.”
In a statement, Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi and Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, auxiliary bishop of the diocese, said Father Swamy’s incarceration was a “sad reflection on those who got the innocent man arrested and the courts that refused to give him bail.”
“The ‘caged parrot’ now sings in heaven but its blood is on our hands,” said the bishops.
Cardinal Bo said Father Swamy’s mission “will continue and will never succumb to evil,” adding that in his death, “he has shone a damning light on the injustice that is becoming a norm in the world.”
The cardinal said indigenous people have become “expendable to corporate interests and their political enablers.”
He said that for thousands of years, indigenous people have protected the “lungs of Asia” but now “an ecological COVID of greed, has waged a war against these lands and the people.”
“Father Stan Swamy died while accompanying the powerless tribals in their struggle and dream. In mourning him, we also commit ourselves to his dream of a new world of justice and peace,” Cardinal Bo said.
Father Swamy suffered from cardiac arrest on July 4 at 4:30 a.m. and was put on a ventilator, but he never regained consciousness. He was in detention since October 2020, after he was arrested for terror-related offenses under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Indian authorities alleged that the priest supported the cause of banned communist groups through his civil rights organizations.
Authorities tagged the priest’s Persecuted Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee, a human rights organization, as a front organization of Maoist and extremist groups.
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The Bagaicha, an organization established by Father Swamy to empower the tribal group Adivbasis, was also tagged as a communist front.
Father Swamy is the oldest person in India to face terror-related charges. He has joined 15 others, including human rights activists, journalists and scholars, who were arrested in connection to a 2018 incident of caste-based violence known locally as the Bhima Koregaon case.
The priest’s supporters said he is being branded as an anti-nationalist, and was jailed because he was fighting for the implementation of laws passed by the parliament for tribal people and their constitutional rights.
Father Swamy was born into a farming family in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He joined the Jesuits after turning 20. After his ordination, he served as a priest for more than 50 years.