Official recognition for Indian martyrs a ‘difficult process’

February 9, 2017 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Odisha, February 9, 2017: Lack of adequate evidence and witness records are among problems slowing down the process for setting Catholics killed during the 2008 anti-Christian violence in eastern Indian Odisha state on the road to becoming saints.

Bishops in Odisha in July 2016 began a process to identify Catholics who had been killed because they refused to abandon their faith during the violence, “but it is a slow process,” said Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar.

The prelate who heads the main archdiocese in Odisha state spoke on the sidelines of the Catholic bishops’ plenary in central India’s Bhopal city, where Cardinal Oswald Gracias released, on Feb. 5, a new book detailing the difficulty victims of the 2008 riots had in seeking justice.

Cardinal Gracias said that the bishops’ conference supports the canonization of the riot victims and he had already spoken to Vatican officials. “It is up to the local church now and they are already working on it,” he said.

Archbishop Barwa said that the initial process — called a diocesan enquiry — is in its early stages. The riot claimed 101 Christian lives and “we have identified 22 of them as Catholics who were killed for their faith. Now we need to get documents and witnesses to prove those facts,” he said.

The process requires biographic records of the candidates and evidence, testimonies and records to establish that they lived and died “a heroic Catholic life,” Archbishop Barwa said.

“The whole process is difficult and slow. The poor villagers are not in the habit of keeping documents. And if there were some, arson and violence destroyed them. It is also difficult to get witnesses and records for most of the deaths,” he said.

“It will take at least two to three years to complete the diocesan enquiry,” Archbishop Barwa added.

Several sources, including the newly released book, Kandhamal Introspection of Initiative for Justice 2007-2015, explain how the jurisprudence system and police colluded to deny justice to victims of the riot. In many cases police failed even to register murders, say right activists such as Father Ajay Kumar Singh.

Frenzied Hindu mobs attacked Christian homes and pulled people out asking them to abuse Christ and hail a Hindu god. Several who refused were butchered, some were burned alive or buried alive, Christian rights activists claim.

Besides the killing, more than 600 villages were ransacked and 6,500 houses were looted and burnt, displacing 54,000 people. A nun was raped and several convents attacked. The violence also partially or fully destroyed 395 Christian places of worship.

The riot began three days after Hindu leader, Swami Laxmananada was shot dead on Aug. 23, 2008 along with three others. Crowds of Hindus, instigated by groups working to make India a Hindu nation, raided Christian homes and held Christians responsible for the deaths.

“The worst is over; the best is yet to come,” said Cardinal Gracias, one of the nine cardinals Pope Francis named to help him reform curia and church administration.

Activist and writer John Dayal, who is a member of’s board of directors, told the bishops that “the church people generally consider those who died in the anti-Christian violence in [Odisha] as martyrs. However, their belief will become true when the Catholic Church declares them as martyrs.”

Father Singh, who works with the victims of the violence, said the support of the bishops, especially of Cardinal Gracias, “will pave the way for the elevation of Catholics killed in the violence as martyrs.”

However, it is “unfortunate that the victims have not got justice even after nine years,” he said. The state administration and the investigating agency have not done enough to bring the culprits to book, he added.

– ucan

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