Catholic Union aligns with Odisha’s persecuted Christians
By Purushottam Nayak
Puri: The largest association of Catholic lay people in India has extended its support and solidarity to persecuted Christians of Odisha.
“We are happy to share solidarity with the people of Odisha, especially with the people of Kandhamal, the land of martyrs,” said Lancy D’Cunha, president of the All India Catholic Union (AICU).
The union held its executive body meeting on June 17-18 at Puri, a temple town in Odisha. This was the first time the 97-year-old lay group organized a national program in the eastern Indian state.
“We are with you all in your need and have special package for youth of Odisha from AICU, D’Cunha said at the concluding program held at Ishopanthi Ashram (hermitage of Jesus way).He also expressed the AICU’s readiness to “solve together obstacles, difficulties and problems in the life journey” of Odisha Christians.
Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, head of the Catholic Church in Odisha who led the opening Mass, reminded the gathering that a strong faith in Christ will help Christians to fight tyranny, oppression and corruption.
“The Church in Odisha has lost life, property and wealth but not its faith in Christ,” asserted the Divine Word prelate who has been working in the state as a missionary for several decades.
Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur, who concelebrated the Mass with Archbishop Barwa, acknowledged that lay people have a special and unique mission in the Church. “What laity can do Pope, bishops, clergy and religious cannot do. Everyone has special role to play in society,” he added.
Bishop Nayak says laypeople have to alert and inform the Church leaders about what happens at the grassroots. “Read the signs of times and give information in the form of books, magazines and other forms of media while being alert and watchful,” he said.
The Berhampur bishop also reminded the fathering that unity, peace and justice in society is possible only when there is cooperation and collaboration among laity, clergy and religious.
AICU, founded in 1919, now represents almost 18 million Catholics who belong to all three ritual Churches in India – Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara. It has 120 dioceses and district units.
John Dayal, a former AICU president, called for setting up a think-thank team with the involvement of lay people in every 171 diocese in India. Dayal, a veteran journalist, asked what the clergy, laity and professionals have done for the people of Kandhamal.
Kandhamal district witnessed the worst anti-Christian violence in modern India when rightwing Hindu groups targeted the community during Christmas in 2007 and in the second half of 2008.
“About 100 people were massacred, 60,000 people displaced and many housed destroyed,” Dayal recalled. He bemoaned that seven Christians continue to languish in jail even after 10 years.
They were accused of murdering a Hindu religious leader on August 23, 2008. Christian groups maintain they were innocent and falsely accused.