Many of you know that last summer I traveled to Jamshedpur, India to visit Fr. John J. Deeney, SJ with his nephew John Gill and the Klarich brothers (Support for Indian Catholics urgent). Through your benevolence we raised money to help, in a small way, the Jesuits to build a new school for the tribal children at St. Paul Miki Parish in Pandabir. Since then anti-Christian violence broke out in Orissa, about an hour south of where we stayed in Lupungutu. The offering we gave would now have to be used to help those poor souls try to put their lives back together.
Call for Protection!
Michael Thanaraj, SJ, Provincial of the Jamshedpur Jesuit Province, Ed Plocha, Development Director of the Maryland Jesuit Province, and Geroge Bur, SJ, President of St. Joseph's Prep, outside the Church of the Gesu. Fr. Raj in the Ignatian Commons at the Prep, overlooking the Jesuit institutions in India.
The Society of Jesus in the United States is increasingly alarmed by the continuing outbreaks of violence in the India state of Orissa against Christians and other minorities by Hindu extremists. With many of our American and Indian Jesuits in the region ministering to the people of Orissa, we are extremely concerned for our brothers’ safety and the safety of the people they serve. The violence has spread and is occurring in other states throughout India, only increasing the need for greater protection by the government. The violence was sparked by the Aug. 23 murder of Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswathi, a Hindu leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Although the Indian government has blamed Maoist rebels for the killing, a backlash has been carried out against Christians and other minorities. More than 26 Christians and minorities have been killed since August 23rd, 2008; more than 50 places of worship have been attacked; 15 churches and convents have been destroyed and more than 4,000 homes of Christians in villages in the Kandhamal district have been burned. The distinguished Jesuit-run Xavier Institute of Management was threatened when mobs passed through the city of Bhubaneswar in the Jamshedpur Province.In response, 50,000 villagers fled into the forests. Relief camps have been set up for over 20,000 villagers who are frightened to return to their homes. Jesuit Brother Paul Marla, who lives in the area where the swami was murdered, is reported to have gone into hiding as have an unknown number of priests, nuns and lay catechists. "The relief camps in Kandhamal district of Orissa are filled with hungry and sick people," said Jesuit Father Michael T. Raj, provincial head of the Jamshedpur province of the Society of Jesus. "Almost all of them have no homes to return to." Humanitarian needs have been further compounded by the worst flooding to the area in 25 years, September 17-22.
Protection for the minority population of Christians, who account for only 2.3% of the 1 billion residents of India, remains an upmost concern. "I was really shocked and disturbed by the inhumane atrocities being heaped upon the Christians in Orissa," said Sebastian Puthenpura, a Jamshedpur Jesuit studying in New York. "Sadder still is the fact that the attacks on Christians are being carried out in other parts of India too."The violence has been condemned by Pope Benedict XVI who said he was "profoundly saddened" and called for communities to try to restore "peaceful coexistence."
Updates on Orissa from Jesuits in Southeast Asia: Jesaonline.org
Statements from the Catholic Bishops Conference of India: http://www.cbcisite.com/press_statements.htm
Statements of Christian Groups Condemning the Deaths: Christians Condemn Deaths
The violence in context: In a Crucified State
America Magazine on the violence: Persecution in Orissa
John and I sharing a laugh with the boys from St. Xavier's in Lupungutu ;-)
Referring to the August 2008 violence on Christians, Fr Joseph said many who returned to their villages for the reconstruction of their homes were forcefully converted to Hinduism."Apart from Orissa, there have also been vehement attacks on Christians in other states ruled by the BJP, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. Some of them have anti-conversion laws misused against Christians, charging them with "forceful conversions".
Catholic Church fears BJP coming to power
Many displaced people dared not go back to their villages. “All you have to do is visit Phirigada, Gunjibadi, Badabanga, Dodingia, Raikola, Chanchedi. In the area near the market at G Udayagiri 43 families (who abandoned their homes) are living in pitiful conditions, but do not dare go home,” he added.
“Not one of the 38 families from the village is living in its own home,” Father Singh said.
“Not one of the seven Christians who went to vote was allowed to cast a ballot because they did not have the right papers,” he said. “Their explanations were of no avail even when they told election officials that their identity papers and certificates were lost to fire during the violence.”
In India, several states ban "forced" conversion, defined so broadly as to encompass charitable works done by humanitarian religious organizations, but such bans are enforced only against those converting from Hinduism. There have been a growing number of converts from the Dalit "untouchable" castes, the lowest in the Hindu system. In recent years, attacks against these converts are on the rise. In the state of Orissa alone, reports of international human-rights organizations have documented some 4,500 houses and churches destroyed, 50,000 people displaced, and over 18,000 injured as a result of violent mobs instigated by Hindu nationalists.
-- The Freedom to Choose a New Faith - WSJ.com
As India conducts its month-long national elections, a leading Indian bishop has accused Hindu nationalists of threatening Orissa state voters with violence and pursuing a “secret agenda” to flush Christians out of the region.Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, speaking in an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), claimed that leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have made death threats against people unwilling to vote for them. He said the BJP was determined to eliminate Christianity from Orissa state’s Kandhamal district, where the vast majority of the state’s churchgoers live. Catholic priests in Orissa report that the BJP has warned Christians in Kandhamal district that if they voted for other candidates, the party would bully them into leaving the area, ACN says.
-- Indian bishop warns of ‘secret agenda’ to remove Christians