Odisha Church urges bishops’ plenary to address Kandhamal

Bhubaneswar (Story By: Santosh Digal, Matters India reporter) : The Church in Odisha has appealed the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) to address Kandhamal issues at its plenary meeting scheduled for March 2016.

Kandhamal, a district in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, was the scene of the worst anti-Christian violence the country witnessed in its modern history.

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.

The Kandhamal violence that lasted for nearly four months claimed more than 90 lives and wounded hundreds of people. More than 50,000 people were rendered homeless.

Fr Ajay Kumar Singh, a rights activist working among the Kandhamal survivors, says by accepting the Odisha Church’s appeal the Indian Church would prove its respect for those who had sacrificed their lives for their faith.

“We welcome and appreciate this appeal. It would boost not just the people of Kandhamal, but all those facing religious persecutions all around South Asia,” he told Matters India. “We are sure CBCI would positively respond to this long standing request of the community, who faced biggest and largest attack in 300 years in Indian history.”

The priest also hailed the Kandhamal Christians for their perseverance in their faith despite continued persecutions since 1970s. According to him, these Christians are one of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in India.

He bemoaned that the government has shirked its responsibility to protect these people and restore basic amenities of life for them.

The biennial CBCI plenary is to be held at March 2-9 at St. John’s Medical College Campus, Bangalore, capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

During the plenary the bishops are expected to seek ways to help the Church respond meaningfully to modern challenges.

Heads of India’s 171 dioceses, auxiliary and retired bishops are expected to attend the assembly that has chosen the theme, “The Response of the Church in India to the present day Challenges.”

The bishops are meeting first time after a coalition headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the pro-Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people’s party) formed the federal government on May 26, 2014. India was in the grip of an election fever when they prelates met last time at Palai in February 2014.

Justice Cyriac Joseph, a retired Supreme Court judge and acting chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, will be the main speaker at the next plenary, said CBCI secretary general Archbishop Albert D’Souza of Agra in a report.

The bishops have invited Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to address the plenary. The plenary has slotted some space for eminent persons from other Christian denominations and religions to express their views on the issues the bishops will discuss.

The previous plenary was held at Palai, Kerala, in February 2014 with the theme, “Renewed Church for a Renewed Society – Responding to the Call of Vatican II.”

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