The new archbishop takes over with many of his flock still homeless after the violence two years ago (Photo by Michael Coyne)
Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Bishop John Barwa of Rourkela as the new archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar.
The 55-year-old Divine Word prelate succeeds Archbishop Raphael Cheenath as the head of the Church in Orissa, an eastern Indian state that witnessed anti-Christian violence in the past few years.
The announcement was made on February 11 simultaneously at the Vatican and in Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa.
Archbishop Cheenath told ucanews.com the announcement surprised him as it came suddenly.
“I never expected it to happen so soon. However we welcome the new archbishop warmly and pray for the success of his Episcopal ministry,” said Archbishop Cheenath who also belongs to the Divine Word Society and who had submitted his resignation on Dec. 29, 2010 when he turned 76.
Bishop Barwa, an Oraon tribal, says his new role would be challenging, but he would do his best to lead the Church in the troubled state since the pope has found “some goodness in me.”
Father Ajay Singh, who directs archdiocesan social service society, says the new archbishop understands well the Church’s current situation in Orissa since he is from a local community.
The archdiocese covers Kandhamal district that witnessed unprecedented violence against Christians in 2008.
“He cannot just watch and wait but to repair the damage done by communal violence that has taken Kandhamal Christians ten years back,” the priest told ucanews.com.
According to him, the Kandhamal situation is “very critical” as justice and proper rehabilitation continue to elude the victims.
“With his energetic, dynamic, historical and prophetic leadership, the new archbishop can address various issues” in the state, he added.
Nobare Soreng, a lay leader in Bhubaneshwar, said that although the new archbishop has a challenging task he would succeed as he is young and creative.
“He would take all communities in the Church to resolve problems within and outside,” he added.
Archbishop-elect Barwa joined the Divine Word Society in 1976 and was ordained a priest by Archbishop Cheenath in 1985.
He became coadjutor bishop of Rourkela in 2006 and succeeded Bishop Alphonse Bilung three years later.
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