First Odisha Martyrs Day observed

K. Nuakgam: The Catholic bishops of Odisha on August 30 observed the first “Martyrs Day” to commemorate those who laid down lives for their faith during the anti-Christian violence in the eastern Indian state’s Kandhamal district.

The Odisha Catholic Bishops’ Council (OCBC) had on March 10 decided to observe Odisha Martyrs Day on August 30 every year.

More than 600 people attended the function at Dibya Jyoti Pastoral Centre, Kanjamendi, Kandhamal district.

Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, OCBC chairman, led the memorial Mass assisted by five bishops of Odisha Region.

The Mass was followed by Kandhamal exhibition, a collection of photos, paintings, film documentaries, literatures that captured during and aftermath of Kandhamal violence.

Fr. Ajaya Kumar Singh, convener of Odisha Forum for Social Action who was instrumental behind the exhibition, briefed contributors for the exhibition that depicted the anti-Christian violence as well as people struggle for justice and harmony.

A memorial meeting was organized to remember all those who are killed for their faith. Ashalata Nayak, a young widow of late Bikram Nayak shared how her husband was attacked to death.

Benedict Digal, elder brother of Fr. Bernard Digal who was martyred during the 2008 violence, shared how he struggled to keep his brother’s memory alive despite the hardships.

Fr Singh, who is also the secretary of OCBC Justice and Peace Commission, gave overview how the Church and faith based groups responded to the crisis. The 47-year-old priest was earlier the general coordinator of relief and rehabilitation. He narrated the then plight of the communities as well as the initiatives undertaken by church groups.

He appealed to the Odisha bishops to start aresource and media center not just counter the lies and calumnies against the Christians; but to proactively work for betterment of the communities’ welfare. He further called for setting up an Odisha level Legal Aid/Justice Centre to check counter cases filed against riot survivors. The center could also strive for proper mechanism even for the survivors of the Kandhamal as the conviction in their cases is less than 1 percent.

He also appealed to the bishops to speed up the process of martyrdom and regretted wasting “precious years” already.

“I do feel this is holy land. I do feel it is place of pilgrimage place for me when I visit Kandhamal. There is spirit of faith and belief pervading here,” said Bishop Kishor Kumar Kujur of Rourkela diocese.

Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur, said, “Kandhamal martyrs are our history. We have to keep this experience alive. God believes in us and hence we are alive. Let us not look into the world. Our stories are not stories of sufferings and sacrifices; but of courage and conviction. Even if it might not dawn on us, martyrs and saints are from this land. We are faith witness communities. Let us work in network with national and international communities to secure justice, peace and keeping faith alive and protected”. He too recalled the contributions of late Archbishop Raphael Cheenath work for justice.”

Bishop Niranjan Sualsingh of Sambalpur, said, “We are the fruits of sufferings and sacrifices of the missionaries. Yet, today, we have shown to the world that we are true followers of the same Christ. This memorial event should not be an event in itself; but movement of people’s faith; spread every corner so that the blood of the martyrs would not be wasted away. We should not allow ever forgotten the stories of faith of the martyrs nor allow it die down. It should be remembered for ever to strengthen us each other in faith and life.”

Archbishop Barwa said,” Let us continue to work towards this cause.”

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