By Purushottam Nayak
Kandhamal: A Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India team that visited Kandhamal says the faith of Christians in the district of Odisha has inspired them immensely.
“You have gone through the misery because of your unfading faith. We are deeply moved and inspired by your model life and deep faith,” Bishop A Neethinathan of Chengalpet, chairman of the CBCI office for Scheduled Castes and Backward Castes, told the survivors of the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal.
The bishop from Tamil Nadu, southern India, on November 28 led 28 priests and nuns from Andhra Pradesh, Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu associated with the CBCI office, to visit Kandhamal district the scene of the worst violence against Christians in modern era.
“You will be certainly rewarded by the Lord,” Bishop Neethinathan assured the Kandhamal Christians. He said his team members have personally witnessed what they had been hearing about the Kandhamal Christians’ unflinching faith in Christ.
Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur led the Mass the team celebrated at Tiangia, a town in Kandhamal where a memorial pillar has been erected in memory of Christians who died during the violence.
“As long as the Lord is with us and we in Him none can do us any harm,” Bishop Nayak said in his homily quoting St. Paul’s letter to Romans. “Who will separate us from the Love of Christ?”
The survivors shared with the team their continued struggle.
“We are still not secured and we struggle without employment,” said Sarat Nayak. a survivor from Tiangia. “The 2008 violence calls us to deepen our faith and unity,” he added.
Anita Pradhan, a widow, said they still await the compensation announced by the Supreme Court on August 2, 2016. “We struggle for daily food and livelihood. We cannot go back to our village as we feel danger to our lives,” she told with tears in her eyes.
Father Manoj Nayak, a local priest who accompanied the team, said Christians cannot return to Betticola village once a flourishing Catholic center. The church and presbytery there were completely destroyed. A temple has been built at the site of an under construction convent,” he pointed out.
At present the villagers are resettled in Nandagiri (Shanti Nagar), about 15 km from Betticola.
The team also visited violence affected villages such as Bakingia and Raikia. They interacted and prayed with people in the newly built village church where faithful of all denominations joined.
At Raikia the team met with widows and Survivors Association members. They also met the wives of seven people who are in jail for almost 9 years for unfounded reasons.
Capuchin Father Anna Christopher from Trichy, one of the visitors, said the pilgrimage to Kandhamal was “a special experience” for him.
Franciscan Sister Alphonsa Gonzaga, another team member, said she felt “very sad” to see some demolished churches still remain in ruins even after nine years.
The CBCI team on November 29 attended a seminar on Dalit at Ishopanthi Ashram in Puri, a coastal town in Odisha.
Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, who led the opening Mass, noted that priests are becoming not only a messengers but the message.
Bishop Neethinathan, in his keynote address, stressed the need to follow Pope’s Francis’ call to show compassion to the marginalized and exploited. He also said priests and nuns should always be open to support the poor and downtrodden.
During the seminar, Sisters Alphonse from Tamilnadu and Goretti from Odisha and Father A J Bosco of Andhra Pradesh, Augustine Singh and Manoj Kumar Nayak of Odisha were given the Archbishop Oscar Romero Brilliant Star award for their significant contribution in bringing about the change in the lives of Dalits and poorer section of society.