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ICC Note:

The Catholic church has named its first bishop over India’s Odisha state. As part of this new diocese, the new bishop has announced that his main focus will be evangelizing. This new push comes in spite of the fact that Odisha was the location where India’s worst incident of persecution happened. In 2008, months of anti-Christian riots killed hundreds and displaced nearly 50,000. Will this new push by the church help heal the wounds left by the 2008 riots?

5/19/2016 India (Crux) – In what could seem simply Vatican business as usual, Pope Francis last month created a new diocese in the Indian state of Odisha and named its first bishop.

It’s anything but ordinary, however, because Odisha, formerly known as Orissa, was the setting for the worst anti-Christian pogrom in the early 21st century. In late 2007 and again in the summer of 2008, mobs of radical Hindus left 100 people killed, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed, and 50,000 Christians taking refuge in a nearby forest, where more died of hunger, thirst and snakebite.

Bishop Aplinar Senapati of the new diocese of Rayagada says the main thrust of his mission in this battle-scarred territory will be evangelization.

“Evangelization is deepening the faith of Christians, transmitting the good news of Jesus through preaching and through our apostolates, [meaning] schools, health services, etc.,” he said.

Senapati knows personally the travails of Christians in the state, because he was at the epicenter of the riots in Kandhamal in December 2007. Violence flared up anew in August 2008 when local Hindus blamed Christians for the assassination of a Hindu holy man named Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati.

Investigations later showed that Saraswati actually had been slain by leftist Maoist guerrillas, not Christians, but that didn’t stop militant Hindu nationalists from taking out their frustrations on Christians, the vast majority of whom in the state belong to either the Dalits, meaning the “untouchables” under the old caste system, or the Tribals, meaning members of the country’s traditionally marginalized indigenous groups.

Senapati, who came back to Kandhamal in 2008 to help out with pastoral services, Masses and confessions, reflected on the horrors of that time.

“I visited many relief camps, and the pathetic conditions of our people caused me intense anguish and suffering,” he said. “So many people lost their lives.  It was a deep wound for me.”

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