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Indian Jesuit priest’s native village eternalizes his martyrdom

Residents of Virgalur in southern Tamil Nadu declare his death anniversary on July 5 as ‘Father Stan Swamy Day’

A man pays homage to Indian Jesuit Father Stan Swamy on his first death anniversary at a temporary pillar erected in his native parish in southern Tamil Nadu on July 5

A man pays homage to Indian Jesuit Father Stan Swamy on his first death anniversary at a temporary pillar erected in his native parish in southern Tamil Nadu on July 5. (Photo: supplied)

Published: July 05, 2022 10:42 AM GMT

Updated: July 06, 2022 02:32 AM GMT

Every July 5 will be observed as ‘Father Stan Swamy Day' in memory of the Indian Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist who died in jail on this day, declared residents of his native village in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The 85-year-old priest died as an undertrial prisoner on July 5, 2021, after being arrested on charges of having links with Maoist terrorists.

The people of Virgalur village in Trichy district, where Father Swamy was born, want to keep his legacy alive, said Father A. Santhanam, a lawyer in Madurai who joined the local Catholic community to celebrate a memorial mass in his honor.

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"The villagers have declared his death anniversary as Father Stan Swamy Day,” he said.

Villagers along with family members of the late priest have erected a temporary pillar in his memory in front of the parish Church to enable visitors to pay homage to him. A public meeting was held in the evening in which Tamil Nadu’s ministers, legislators and other dignitaries participated.

Meanwhile, the Chennai province of the Jesuits has released a Tamil language translation of Father Swamy’s book, “I am not a silent spectator,” which was originally written and published in English.

Lauding the villagers, Father Santhanam told UCA News that Father Swamy transcended the barriers of caste, creed, language, culture, and religion among others to respond to people who needed help.

“What makes Father Swamy outstanding or tallest among us is his love for people in distress,” he said. “He was not selfish and never bothered about the consequences of his decision like Jesus and finally had to pay with his life as an undertrial prisoner.”

Father Swamy’s inspiration was Jesus Christ but he also learned from Karl Marx and social reformers like Periyar and B. R. Ambedkar. Thus, he could bring together people from all walks of life and unite them despite their different ideologies, Father Santhanam added.

“Another important quality of Father Swamy was that he often raised questions to those in power,” he said.

Father Swamy was charged with serious offenses such as sedition and arrested from his residence in Ranchi, the capital of the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand on Oct. 8, 2020, and was remanded to judicial custody in Mumbai the following day.

The elderly priest who suffered from Parkinson’s and other age-related diseases was denied bail by both the trial court and the high court and finally he died in a Mumbai hospital.

Jesuits have approached the Mumbai High Court seeking to remove the odium of guilt from the name of Father Swamy who lived and died for the poorest of the poor and those exploited.

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LUCINDA
Reading about father Swamy reminds me very much of Father Stanny Miranda SJ with whom I enjoyed a long correspondence till his death. Is there anyone who might be interested in sharing memories with me about his inter-faith work and fight for land rights of the rural poor, in the hills above Mumbai, about 30 years ago?

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