By Purushottam Nayak
Bhubaneswar: Members of the Women Council of the Indian Catholic bishops took time off from their annual meeting to visit the survivors of the worst anti-Christian violence in modern India.
“We had gone to visit the land of martyrs and came back enriched,” Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas of Gurgaon, chairperson CBCI council for women who led the visitors to meet the Kandhamal victims, told Matters India.
The team comprised 22 of the 45 participants of the September 30-October 4 meeting in Bhubaneswar.
Bishop Barnabas told the survivors that the Catholic women’s team came to them to express their solidarity and to share their sufferings and pain. However, they found great inspiration from the survivors to live and proclaim the faith.
The Syro-Malankara prelate said his team could understand the survivors’ pain and anguish for their faith in Jesus. “The Kandhamal people have witnessed Jesus by sacrificing their lives. We should follow their example and live and proclaim Jesus,” he added.
The bishop said the team’s visit was to find out what the council could for the victims. “We should do something that follows our action. Education is a must for the youth so that they can face the challenges,” he added.
Kanakarekha Nayak, a Kandhamal widow, told the team that her husband sacrificed his life for the faith and that made her strong in her belief in Jesus. “Every breath I take is the breath of faith in Jesus which my husband witnessed,” she said as tears rolled down her cheeks.
Rose Mary Sahayam from Madya Pradesh, a member of the visiting team, said she strengthened in faith after visiting the Kandhamal people.
The Kandhamal district that had been experiencing sectarian tension for decades saw unprecedented violence during Christmas in 2007 and again in the second half of 2008. The second wave of attacks was triggered by the assassination of a Hindu religious leader on August 23, 2008. The violence that lasted at least four months killed more than 100 people and rendered more than 56,000 homeless.
The team visited Tiangia, one of the worst affected villages in Kandhamal district.
Chinama Jacob from Delhi archdiocese said she was “really inspired and strengthened in faith in Jesus” when Lasi Digal, brother of Father Bernard Digal, one of the victims. The treasurer of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese who hailed Tiangia fell into the hands of the attackers. He died a few days later.
Lasi Digal said the brutal killing of his brother by Hindu radicals still haunts his family members and relatives.
Handmaid of Mary Sister Bibiana Barla Hand, general secretary of the Women Commission of the Odisha bishops’ council, said many visitors offered to help the survivors economically and materially.
“I volunteer to come to Kandhamal and take coaching classes for the students of Kandhamal,” said Lucia from Tamil Nadu.
Sister Talisha Nadukudiyil, national secretary of the Women Council of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said the sharing of the survivors moved the visitors who also felt the pain and anguish.
“Although the people are illiterate their faith is firm,” she told Matters India.
The team prayed with the survivors and paid homage to the Kandhamal martyrs at Tiangia. The group also visited Barokhoma, the worst affected village and interacted with the victims.
Another place they visted was Nadagiri where the district collector has allotted land for those driven out of Betikola village by radicals.
The national meeting held at Xavier University of Bhubaneswar addressed the theme, “Role of Women in making the family.”