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Ecumenical Group Calls For Indian Christian Martyrs’ Day

11/20/08 JABALPUR, India (UCAN) — A Christian group in central India has called for Aug. 25 to be observed as “Indian Christian martyrs day” to honor Christians killed recently in Orissa state.

According to Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (grand assembly of Madhya Pradesh Christians), the ecumenical group in Madhya Pradesh state that made the demand, Aug. 25 was the day Hindu radicals killed the most Christians in Orissa.

The exact number of fatalities is not yet known, but available reports indicate at least 59 Christians perished in seven weeks of anti-Christian violence in that eastern state. The violence that also destroyed thousands of Christian homes and more than 100 Church properties including churches, and displaced around 50,000 Christians began on Aug. 24, the day after a Hindu religious leader and four associates were gunned down in Orissa. Maoists claimed responsibility for the assassination.

Some independent groups that toured Orissa in October put the number of Christians killed at more than 500.

On Nov. 9, about 200 members of the Madhya Pradesh ecumenical group met in the state capital of Bhopal, 745 kilometers south of New Delhi, to review the status of Christians in India.

Their resolution says establishing the martyrs’ day will help the Indian Church remember Orissa Christians’ “great sacrifices” for the universal Church.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal welcomed the group’s suggestion and said the Orissa victims’ “supreme sacrifice is admirable.”

The prelate, who heads the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, commended the Orissa Christians for preferring death to giving up their faith. He also pointed out that such sacrifice disproved the allegation that missioners converted people through allurement, force and other illegal means.

History shows the Church has grown wherever it met with persecution, Archbishop Cornelio told UCA News on Nov. 12. He maintained the Orissa violence was extremists’ attempt to wipe out Christians and Christianity from Orissa. In this test, “our people” emerged “winners” by shedding their blood, which “made us all proud,” he added.

Regarding a date for the proposed martyrs’ day, the archbishop said he would take up the matter with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. Such a move, he said, would be “a very unique case” in Indian Church history.

Joshi Kurisungal, assembly president, explained that remembering the Orissa “pogrom” would help Indian Christians keep their faith alive. “Unless we remember it, it will be forgotten. That will be gross injustice to those people who embraced martyrdom for their faith.”

According to the Catholic lay leader, the annual observation of martyrs’ day would shame “the merchants of death” in addition to strengthening Christians’ faith.