Cardinal Gracias favors
Martyr status for Kandhamal victims
Published in Matters India, Story By: Santosh Digal
(Note: After speaking up for the Lesbians Bombay’s Cardinal Gracias is proving once again that his ears are very much attuned to various ground realities in India. There is no gainsaying that Kandhamal brutalities of 2008 in which 90 people were killed and 50,000 made homeless, were one of the blackest chapters in the history of the Church in India. Those who gave up their lives to bear witness to their faith in Jesus were unparalleled in the exhibition of their Christian conviction. Declaring them Martyrs is one way of paying tribute to them, not that number of saints in the Church in India must be multiplied overnight. Cardinal Gracias represents the listening church in India. In Pope Francis’ language it may not be wrong to describe him as one Prelate who has the smell of the sheep. james kottoor, editor)
Mumbai: Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay and one of the eight key advisers of Pope Francis, wants the Church in India to initiate a process to declare as martyrs those killed during an anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal, Odisha, eastern India.
“I have spoken to the Prefect of the Pontifical Congregation of the Causes of Martyrs in Rome. I am willing to speak personally about Kandhamal violence and its martyrs to Pope Francis, whenever there is an opportunity,” Cardinal Gracias told Matters India on December 28.
The cardinal, who is the president of Conference of Catholic Bishops of Indian Latin Rite (CCBI) and President of Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (FABC), said he has already requested the head of the Church in Odisha, Divine Word Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack Bhubaneswar, to initiate the process.
The Kandhamal violence that lasted for nearly four months in 2008 claimed more than 90 lives and rendered more than 50,000 people homeless.“The Church is sensitive to modern day martyrs who could be declared as saints. The roles of the witnesses of the martyrs are quite important and critical for this process. It is a tedious work and needs proper and timely documentation before anything happens to them and the issue is still fresh,” the cardinal explained.
The cardinal had met Kanak Rekha Nayak, wife of Parikhit Nayak, one of the victims of Kandhamal during the November 12 – 15 National Eucharistic Congress held at St. Pius X College, Goregoan, Mumbai. The Theme of the Congress was “Nourished by Christ to Nourish Others.”
On August 27, 2008, Kanaka Rekha Nayak fled home with her family, driven out by a violent mob. While she and her two young children managed to hide, the horde caught her husband, Parikhit, and demanded he renounce his Christian faith and become a Hindu. He refused.
From their hiding place, Nayak and her two young children could only watch as the rioters stabbed him to death, hacked at his limbs and finally burned his remains. Seven years later, Nayak, now in her 30’s, still trembles recalling the scene.
Her husband was among more than 90 people killed in Odisha’s Kandhamal district, in what is considered to be the worst episode of anti-Christian violence India has ever witnessed.
Cardinal Gracias said the most thrilling event during the Eucharistic Congress was the testimony of Kandhamal. Although he had met some widows of Kandhamal soon after the violence in 2008, he was touched when Nayak narrated the horrifying martyrdom of her husband.
Cardinal Gracias asked the congress participants if those killed in Kandhamal could be called martyrs. “The Eucharistic Congress roared in one voice: ‘Yes, they are,’” he added.On that occasion, the cardinal urged the Indian Church to take up the Kandhamal martyrs’ cause.
The 71-year-old prelate further stated that the primary responsibility for initiating the process of Kandhamal martyrs’ cause lies with Cuttach-Bhubaneswar archdiocese that covers Kandhamal district that faced anti-Christian persecution in 2007 and 2008.
However, Cardinal was quite willing to take up the issue as the CCBI president, he added.Cardinal Gracias wants the Odisha Catholic Bishops’ Council to take up the matter with the CCBI. For this Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archbishop has to take the initiative first at the local level. “I am very much for it. We have to take up the case,” the cardinal added.
Meanwhile Archbishop Barwa has requested to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India to address the Kandhamal martyrs’ cause during its biennial plenary meeting at St. John’s Medical College and Hospital, Bangalore, scheduled for March 2-10, 2016.
The Odisha Church wants the bishops’ national body to discuss the possibilities of observing Kandhamal Martyrs’ Day at national level, initiating the canonization process for Kandhamal martyrs and putting up an exhibition on Kandhamal violence at the plenary venue.
The appeal was made in a December 10 letter that Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, the head of the Odisha Church, wrote to CBCI deputy secretary general Monsignor Joseph Chinnayyan.The Divine Word prelate said he was writing on behalf of the Odisha Catholic Bishops’ Council. He also wants the plenary to allow 20 minutes for Kandhamal survivors to share their experiences.
Meanwhile a group of priests and lay people is preparing a detailed list of Kandhamal martyrs, according to the dates of their death, denomination or religion.