Fr. Gregory Gay, CM  has requested posting of these front-line reports on the religious crisis in India

Dear Fr. Gregory,

Greetings from North Indian Province! Following is a short description of what is happening in Orissa state.

Background information about Orissa violence on Christians

In Orissa’s Kandhamal District, the worst-hit region by violence between Hindus and Christians, the Christians are still nursing their wounds from the Christmas 2007 violence, with hundreds of them still live in a refugee camp in Barakhama.  Majority of the destroyed churches, which exceeds 100, remain in ruins; burnt houses are still to be fully rebuilt.  Kandhamal is a primarily tribal area, where Vincentian missionaries have worked for decades. Almost 20 percent of the district’s people are Christians.

Fresh violence broke out following the killing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (a fundamentalist Hindu Political Organization) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples in an ashram at Jalespeta in Kandhmal district on 23 August 2008.  Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was killed by unidentified armed assailants. While the government held Maoists responsible for the killings, the Hindu fundamentalist groups blamed Christians for the incident.

Thus a  new wave of violence has struck the Christians in the state of Orissa. Every day, there is news of killing, wounding, rape, assaults against churches, convents, schools, orphanages, villages, carried out by Hindu fanatics. Hundreds of people have had to abandon their homes and flee to the forests. According to government estimation 4000 houses have already been torched.

For the last one week we are feeling that we are not safe whether we are inside the house or outside the house. Many fathers and sisters spent days deep in the jungle without much food, no extra cloth to change and sleeping under the tree unmindful of sun and rain. Added to the tension we have been experiencing we were continuously hearing the bad news of priests getting beaten-up, rape and murder of the Christians. The sad fact is that it still continues.

The police have not given adequate protection to the Christians. It is due to the political climate in the state, where the ruling political party –  Biju Janatha Dal – is being supported by Hindu fundamentalist groups. Without the international pressure on the Indian government we do not expect the Orissa state government to do anything to protect the Christian minority in Orissa

Why this violence against the Christians

The epicenter of the latest violence is the district of Kandhamal, in the state of Orissa. This is mostly a tribal area evangelized by the Vincentian missionaries. What is unleashing the violence is the work that Christians in Orissa are carrying out on behalf of the Tribals and the Dalits who are  at the very bottom of the caste system.

The Tribals and Dalits who are at the bottom of the cast system used to be  like slaves. Now, some of them study in our schools, start businesses in the villages, demand their rights. But those who want to perpetuate the old system because it was beneficial to them, the rich and the powerful, are afraid that these poor Tribals and Dalits are gaining too much power, they are afraid that they can not exploit them any more , they are afraid that they are loosing the cheap labor they used to get from the Tribals and Dalits. Missionaries are responsible for making the Tribals and Dalits educated and making them capable of demanding their rights. The poor are empowered through our institutions and activities and that is causing problem for some. Many times they tried to block the work of the missionaries. This time they seem to be succeeding to a great extend. They are targeting the priests and nuns working in the area. Our life is at risk. So far Vincentin Confreres are safe. The situation has not come to normalcy. Please pray for us.

Fr. Mathew Kallammakal, C.M.


North Indian Province


Ref: CBCI-Gen/Cir-16/2008                                                      August 26, 2008


Subject: Prayer for Peace and for Our Missionaries.

Your Eminence/Grace/Excellency,

In the wake of the recent violence unleashed in the Kandhamal District of Orissa and the killing of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati and his four associates in the Ashram, which the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) has strongly denounced and condemned, there have been unwarranted attacks on Christians and their houses and institutions in the same district and neighbouring areas.

While I express my deep anguish at the tragic events and pray for the deceased and their bereaved families, I am seriously concerned about the safety of innocent people who are helpless victims of the rampant and unchecked violence.

I urgently appeal to the Central and State Governments to take all possible measures required to maintain order and peace in all the affected areas and to prevent further attacks on Christians and other innocent people.

As a mark of true solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters and as a protest against all acts of communal violence and, in particular, recalling the brutal murder of our dear Fr. Thomas Pandippally, CMI, I declare that all our Catholic schools, colleges and other educational institutions be closed on Friday, August 29, 2008, and I wish that everywhere peaceful marches/rallies be conducted with black flags’ demonstration in a truly prayerful spirit.

I also declare Sunday, September 7, 2008, as a Day of Prayer and Fasting and I hope that in all our Dioceses, our Churches, parish communities and all Church institutions/ organizations will hold prayer services and memorial gatherings on this day, highlighting the need for our solidarity with all the victims and prayer for all our Missionaries in India, who are facing most trying and difficult times for the sake of the Gospel.

Indeed, ‘the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity’. Let us fervently pray that in our days righteousness may flourish and peace abound throughout our country and the whole world.

Invoking upon you all God’s abundant blessings and mercy and in union of prayers,

            • Yours sincerely,

            • Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, C.Ss.R.

    Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church &

              • President, CBCI



Fr. Edward Sequeira, a priest belonging to the Society of Divine Word (SVD), was one of those who was seriously injured when his mission station was attacked by the mob in Orissa.

Currently recuperating at Burla Medical College Hospital, Sambalpur, Fr. Sequeira, upon gaining consciousness, narrated the story to his brother Commodore Valentine Sequeira who writes:

A large mob of more than 700 people were returning after attending the cremation of Swami Laxmananand Saraswati who was killed along with four others Saturday evening by suspected Maoist guerrillas at his Jalespata ashram.

The mob was chanting anti-Christian slogans and when they reached Padampur in Bargarh district, they attacked the orphanage where Fr Edward lived.

Ms. Rajni, a 20 year old student who lived in the orphanage and was also working as an auxiliary nurse in the orphanage confronted them.

When Fr Sequeira arrived at the spot, the mob locked him and Rajni into separate rooms, and ordered the children to vacate the orphanage. The mob then ransacked Fr Sequeira’s room, poured petrol on him, Rajni and set the orphanage on fire.

“I was engulfed in flames, I could hear the cries of Rajni and the mob was cheering and shouting through the windows,” recalls Fr Sequeira.

He however, managed to crawl to the bathroom, beat out the flames and closed the windows.

“When I started to suffocate I found a crack on the wall that was damaged in the attack and kept my nose there to breath some air. All the while I could hear the cries of Rajni from the next room where she was writhing in agony. After sometime, there was silence and I thought she must have managed to escape from the room,” recalled Fr Sequeira. Your browser may not support display of this image.

Unknown to Fr Edward, the girl was burnt alive and had breathed her last.

People from the neighborhood who heard the cries of children rushed to the rescue, broke the walls and brought him to safety. That is when the mob attacked him again outside the orphanage and beat him up mercilessly till he became unconscious. He was initially rushed to the hospital at Padampur and later with the help of local officials was shifted to Burla Medical College Hospital, in Sambalpur.


See sample of other famvin stories related to extremism and violence…


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