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Fr Edward, one of the first victims in Orissa, meets his attackers

ICC Note: A priest who was almost burned to death tells of meeting those who attacked him, some of whom expressed remorse, and some of whom only shrugged their shoulders and said, “We did what we were told.”

by Nirmala Carvalho
02/05/09 Bhubaneshwar, India (AsiaNews) – Fr Edward Sequeira was one of the first victims of the pogrom against Christians launched by Hindu extremists last August in the district of Kandhamal (Orissa). The Divine Word priest worked for years at a leper colony, and in an orphanage for abandoned children. It was there that on August 25 the horde of people he calls “terrorists” seized him, beat him unconscious, and tried to burn him alive. He was able to save himself from the fire and suffocating smoke when he regained consciousness and shut himself up in the little bathroom in the room. Before losing consciousness again, he heard the screams of one of his young assistants, Rajni Majhi, who was raped, tied up, and thrown into the flames, where she was burned to death (See: Fr Edward, survivor of arson in Orissa: the Hindu radicals are terrorists). In the interview we present here, he recounts his meeting with his assailants, in order to discover the reason for the violence. But above all, he talks about the “humanitarian disaster” in Orissa, where more than 50,000 Christians have been uprooted from their land and are now displaced out of the fear that they are still the target of extremist violence. The priest also denounces the political designs that are being realized precisely through attacks on Christians, who will not be able to vote in the upcoming elections. And he asks the international community to take to heart this situation, in which human dignity has been humiliated, so that globalization may also mean international solidarity.

Fr Edward Sequeira, SVD, went back to Orissa on the 11th September 2008, after just 9 days in Holy Spirit Hospital.

He was back in Mumbai for treatment: his shoulder muscle ligament is torn, and his lungs are still weak, the wounds on his head have healed, but he continuous to have headaches. He showed me the scars of his stitches on his back and hands and legs. He offered up to the Lord the painful mystery of his persecution for graces for his attackers.

Fr Edward has visited the Padampur orphanage and the village and leper colony five times since his brutal assault –in disguise the entire time. He even visited his attackers in the jail.

The priest shares that this is the third time he has beaten in Orissa -1997, 2004, and 2008. In May of this year, he celebrates the twentieth anniversary of his priestly ordination. “Such immense gifts, I have received, from the good Lord, who has found me worthy to suffer for His name.”

“21 people were arrested for the attack on me, the burning of Rajni, and the burning down of the orphanage. Of these, 5 people were from Khuntpalli village, these were people who used to supply milk to the orphanage, some were my construction workers and mostly people whom I have served who were afflicted with leprosy, or others whom I have taken by jeep to hospitals.

“I went to the leper colony and asked them, ‘What grudge did you have against me? What harm had I done to you?’ I was told that the attack on my orphanage and my beatings were very meticulously planned, and while some showed remorse, others merely shrugged stating that there were only executors of the plan, but most of those who had beaten me up were hardcore RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) people.

I had to visit these people, I had to know why, these were people whose maggot-infested wounds I had cleaned, who children I cared for, and yet I was brutally beaten and with attempts to burn me alive. These were the same people, who frequented my mission (orphanage) – either for gainful employment or for some personal favours which I gave generously, and yet they had no qualms about mercilessly thrashing me and burning alive Rajni, after they gang raped her.

“I told them I forgave them, that my wounds are graces for them and that my sufferings may be for their repentance for the evil.

“It is rather tragic that most of these villages were mute witnesses to my thrashing and also the burning alive of Rajni, yet not even one has come forward to testify and give witness.

“In November, with official permission I went to the sub-divisional jail, where 5 attackers from my village are being held. When they saw me, they were surprised and shocked. There were some rumours that I had died, no one was sure about my whereabouts.

“I asked them the same question. ‘What harm have I done to you, why did you attack me and burn Rajni?’ They too had the same reply, that they were not actively involved in any planning, they only carried out orders. Before leaving, I showed them my scars, on my shoulder, head, back, hands, and legs, and told them that I forgive them, and offer these physical wounds for divine graces for them, for their enlightenment and salvation. I told them that I will continue to serve them and I pray every day that God may give them an experience of love and that they may be reconciled to God.

“The 20 orphans are now in government ashrams. The village schools were forced to admit 8 of them, but there is a lot of stigma attached to these children, as their parents were leprosy afflicted and there is a morbid fear of contamination. I have to go and help these children, educate them, and treat them with dignity, I cannot abandon the mission.” … [Go To Full Story]