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Laboratory of persecution becomes center of faith 

By Purushottam Nayak

Kandhamal: Nine years ago, the people of Kandhamal district in Odisha state underwent the worst anti-Christian violence seen in modern India.

Today, Christians from various parts of the country flock to the forested region of waterfalls and springs, to find inspiration to live their faith.

One such group recently came from Nagaland, a Christian-majority state in northeastern India. Eleven Catholics led by a Catholic priest came on October 18, a day before India celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights.

“The faith of Kandhamal martyrs was a Diwali gift for us,” Father Peter Salew, who led the catechists from the diocese of Kohima, told Matters India on October 19 at the end of their visit.

Kohima diocese covers the entire Nagaland state.

Father Salew said his team found that the people of Kandhamal, despite living one of the most backward districts of India, lived a simple life strong in their Christian faith. “Faith is stronger than poverty,” the Salesian priest added.

Edward Thekrunei, one of the catechists, remarked that radical Hindu groups had chosen Kandhamal as the “laboratory” of anti-Christian persecution, but it “become the center of faith for all Christians of India.”

Nearly 100 people were killed and 56,000 rendered homeless during violence targeting Christians that started on August 24, 2008, and lasted for nearly four months. The spark was lit by the assassination of Swami Lashmananada Saraswati, a Hindu religious leader who had lived in Kandhamal for decades mainly to oppose Christian missionaries.

Maoist outlaws had claimed the murder, but Hindu radical groups blamed Christians for it.

The swami’s work had led to simmering tension between Christians and Hindus in the region. It came to the fore during Christmas time in 2007 when radical Hindu groups burned churches and attacked Christian institutions.

During the 2008 violence, about 300 churches, institutions, more than 600 homes were destroyed. Some were burnt alive for not accepting Hindu religion.

Ruokuovituo Robert Rutsa, another visitor from Nagaland, said their biggest shock came when they visited Divya Jyoti Pastoral Centre in K. Nuagam town. Hindu radicals thrashed its director Father Thomas Chellan and gang raped a Catholic nun and paraded them semi-nude on the streets while the police remained mute spectators.

The survivors narrate their trauma to the visitors

Father Cassian Pradhan, who had spent weeks in forests without food after fleeing the marauding mobs, said most victims have not received compensation despite an order from the Supreme Court. “Nine years have passed,” he added.

Teresa Pradhan from Pobingia village told the visitors that the Hindu extremists have tried to eliminate Christians and declare the area as Hindu block. “But it is the faith in Jesus that gives us courage and strength to practice Christianity in Pobingia,” the woman added.

Daugthers of St Anne Sister Loyola Minj said she and other nuns spent a week in the forest along with girls from their hostel. “We lived with great anxiety and worries, but we could experience God’s hand in saving us from the attackers.

The visitors also visited Sukananda town of Father Alexander Charalamkunnel, a survivor who died on July 9 in Kerala, his native state.

“We salute the courage of Kandhamal people. We are enriched with their faith. Sacrificing life in witnessing faith in Jesus has touched our lives,” Edward added.

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10 Responses to Laboratory of persecution becomes center of faith

  1. PS George

    Would like to visit the place and stay with the community for two three days! Can any one give some guidance?

  2. Fr. James Pulickal sdb, Wau, republic of south sudan (Ross)

    I liked that terminology laboratory. You know ‘science labs’ that create nobel laureates continue to bring forth other nobel laureates becuse the logistics and infrastructures already available make it easy for the next set of students. To me kandhamal has become a ‘saints lab’ that created saints and will remain a ‘saints lab’ for many communities to model their churches and communities. To make it a world class ‘saints lab’, we require our passion to listen and learn like this Nagaland community and their(kandhamal saints) passion to share and media is the best tool for both. Thanks a million to mattersindia.

  3. Jarlal

    Kerala is known as God’s own land where as Kandhamal is known as land of martyrs. Indeed it is the will of God. Because both places start with alphabet `K` Kerala and Kandhamal

  4. Mukunddev

    Victims of anti-Christians violence are still to be healed, still to be recovered, still to be consoled and reconciled from the pain, agony and psychological trauma. When people visit the victims they are once again empowered and encouraged to stand against any opposition, threat to witness faith in Jesus.

  5. Manoj

    Nine years ago communities in Kandhamal had to go through the burning furnace of communal violence, a horrific holocaust, with dignity and nobility, with stoicism and serenity and sacrificed their lives and liberties unparalleled in the history of Odisha. However, we must draw our strength from Jesus Christ, Our Lord and have faith in the words of St. Tertullian, a Second Century Father of the Church, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”.

  6. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Diwali is a festival of lights. Happy Diwali to all.

  7. Aswin

    Not retaliating to the persecutors of Christians in Kandhamal changes many unkind people to be kind. Misguidance by some selfish extremists caused fighting each-other even staying together for ages.

  8. cassian Parichha

    It was well planned by the Hindu Fundamentalist to denounce and wipe out Christianity totally from Kandhamal. The extremists harassed used vulgar languages, persecuted Christians after the assassination of Hindu Religious VHP leader. They started damaging, pulling down to many helpless and innocent Christians both Catholics and non-Catholics. Creating problem they tried to corner the Christians. I had built a Church through the help of well-wishers, donors which was totally demolished in my own hill village. I myself was about to be martyred in Boudh but it was not God’s will perhaps so through the intervention of superintendent of police I was rescued. The Christians in Kandhamal suffered, scattered, many are killed. People knew the word of Jesus “You will suffer in my name” which was started in Rome, in India, in Kandhamal more vigorously. Economically poor, socially down but people are growing in faith strongly. They are flourishing. The persecution is a history it will go down for the century. Lord intervened by sending elephants, assisting Christians. It was wonder after 70, 80 yeas these wild elephants appeared in Padunbadi a hill village. The persecutors had tied a young man elephant rescued and chased and killed the persecutor, which were finally called Christian elephants. Several of the persecutors who torched Christians have become Christians. The persecutors knew that they were misguided and misled. They realized the nature of Christians who did not retaliate rather suffered helplessly. Many persecutors have died untimely and mysterious death. For me it was a blessings in disguise.

  9. Dr Roy Chowdhury

    Kandhamal! In deed God’s own work to transform Hindutva laboratory into a shrine of enduring Christin faith for all people.

  10. A. S. Mathew

    India’s record breaking torturing of the defenseless Christians were too many in record, the Kandhamal bloodshed and torture were the leading one in the history of Christian persecution in India.

    But the torturing demons have no idea that the growth of Christianity was through persecution and the foundation of the Christian faith is at the blood of the martyrs.

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