Torched mission station springs back to life
By Francis Maria Britto
02/12/09 MADHUPUR, India (UCAN) — A change of heart by some Hindus who razed a church in Orissa state six months ago is part of this remote Catholic mission station’s resurrection.
“Our Hindu neighbors now condemn the incident and are angry with the attackers,” said Father Basil Kullu, parish priest in Madhupur, a mission station in the eastern state.
On Aug. 25, a mob of 500 armed men, including some Hindu neighbors, stormed the mission and torched its church, presbytery, convent and health center. The attackers spared only the mission’s high school and two hostels for students. The incident came amid seven weeks of anti-Christian violence in Orissa that killed 60 people and displaced 50,000 others, mostly Christians.
Father Kullu and his assistant escaped death by fleeing to the nearby forest with eight Handmaids of Mary nuns and 358 hostel children. Now, the mission’s once-imposing buildings, which Divine Word missioners began building in 1957, lie destroyed. A police battalion guards what is left and patrols the village. Father Kullu says the mission has no money for repairs.
It does, however, have a lot of sympathy from its Hindu neighbors, says Catholic social worker Devendra Nanda. “Even the main attackers, who are now out on bail, go about sad.”
According to Nanda, the attackers had not anticipated the extent of the damage. “Their families are angry with them,” he said, and they fight among themselves because police impounded the vehicles they used for the attack.
Father Kullu reported the police have so far seized seven vehicles and arrested 70 people, 48 of them on Feb. 7 from Barupali, a village 12 kilometers from Madhupur. “Others are getting arrested,” the 48-year-old priest added.
The pastor said priests and nuns now remain within the mission station while a team of social animators and catechists tours villages. The team confirms that Hindu villagers feel remorse over the attack.
Father Kullu cited drastic consequences for some. Guilt drove two brothers who were in the mob to take poison, from which one of them died, he said, while a person who broke the cross on a village chapel also took his life. Another two people turned insane, and doctors have advised amputating a man’s hands that got burned while torching a Hindu girl working in a Catholic orphanage. Diabetes is preventing the man’s burn wounds from healing.
Meanwhile, Father George Soren, the assistant pastor, has noticed changes among the mission’s 1,000 Catholics. Many of them cared little for their faith before the attack, and some even stopped identifying themselves as Christians afterward, he said. But services now draw large congregations. “We had a good gathering for Christmas,” he noted.
Sister Carola, the convent superior, sees the entire incident as miraculous. On the day of the attack, she recalled, the children screamed and shouted as they ran to the forest, yet none of the attackers seemed to hear them and follow.
Four of her companions have also returned. “Our provincial hesitated sending us back. But we said we would go. Now we have more courage,” she said. “If we desert, [the Hindu radicals] will take advantage.”
The nuns have special permission from their superior general not to dress in their Religious habit in Madhupur. According to Sister Carola, more nuns want to join the mission but it lacks accommodations for them.