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Kandhamal's violence-hit Christians continue to inspire

Visiting women from across India take heart from faith shown by survivors of brutal 2008 attacks by Hindu nationalists reporter, Bhubaneswar reporter, Bhubaneswar

Updated: October 06, 2017 10:09 AM GMT
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Kandhamal's violence-hit Christians continue to inspire

Catholic women leaders from across India with Christians in the Kandhamal region of eastern on Oct. 5. Anti-Christian violence erupted in the region nine years ago resulting in 100 deaths. (photo provided)

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Catholic women leaders have drawn inspiration from the faith shown by survivors of the violent anti-Christian Kandhamal attacks when they recently visited the region in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. 

On Oct. 5 a group of 20 women visited the remote, impoverished area of Odisha where villagers were attacked by rampaging Hindu nationalists in late August 2008, leaving 100 people dead and thousands homeless. They were the worst attacks on Christians in India's history.

The women were among 50 leaders from across India who had gathered in Bhubaneswar, capital of Odisha, for a conference organized by the Indian bishops’ Commission for Women. The conference, held from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, discussed the role of women in the family.

"I am strengthened in faith after visiting the region," said Rosemary Sahayam from Madhya Pradesh in central India. "How families continue to live in faith and confidence even after their relations were killed for their faith is truly inspiring."

The anti-Christian violence engulfed more than 600 villages. Those killed included the disabled and elderly people, children and women. Several rapes were reported, including that of a Catholic nun. More that 350 churches and 6,500 houses were looted and burned down during the attacks leaving 56,000 people homeless.

The anti-Christian attacks were fueled by the gunning down on Aug. 23, 2008 of a Hindu spiritual leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, 85, and four of his associates. Hindu extremists blamed Christians for the murders even though Maoists claimed responsibility for the deaths.

"The faith with which they withstood the attack is alive and active," said Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas of Gurgaon, chairperson of the conference.

"We have a very rich experience on how to proclaim faith by simply being faithful to God."

Rose Tete from West Bengal said she was moved to tears when widow Kanakarekha Nayak recounted how she lived her life after her husband Parikit  was hacked to death in Tiangia village. Tete said the woman told her: "Every single breath I take today is the breath of faith in Jesus, which my husband witnessed with his life."

The group visited three villages including Nadagiri, where the local administration has provided land to Christians after Hindus threatened to kill them if they returned to their home village of Betikola. They now eke out a living as farm hands.

Bishop Barnabas said the visit had prompted some of the women to help in the education of youngsters in the area as their families had experienced "pain and suffering for the faith."

Handmaids of Mary Sister Bibiana Barla, regional secretary of the Bishop’s Commission in Odisha, said several of the women had volunteered  economic and material support, including study aids.

Talisha Nadukudiyil, from the Sisters of the Destitute congregation and national secretary for the bishops’ women commission said the visit had moved the whole group.

"We experienced so much love and affection from the villagers, despite their suffering and poverty," Sister Nadukudiyil said.

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