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ICC Note: Christian leaders in India are preparing for the tenth anniversary of the 2008 anti-Christian Orissa Riots, still considered the worst instance of Christian persecution in India’s modern history. In August 2008, anti-Christian riots swept across the Kandhamal District of Orissa. 5,600 Christian homes in 415 villages were destroyed and 56,000 Christians were displaced. When the violence finally subsided, at least 91 people had been killed.

07/08/2018 India (Asia News) – The tenth anniversary of the violence against Christians in Kandhamal, Orissa “is an opportunity to reaffirm peace and reconciliation among the entire population” says Msgr. John Barwa, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar.

Speaking to Asia News, he said that ten years ago the district was hit by the most violent anti-Christian pogrom in the history of India. But now, he says, “Christians live in harmony with the faithful of all other religions. This is why we want the event to be an opportunity for reconciliation and sharing, to pray and talk about peace and grace. The Lord will bless each one of us.”

On August 25, the day that commemorates the massacre of Christians in Orissa by Hindu radicals, the archdiocese has planned a solemn Mass “of thanksgiving, reconciliation and grace”. To promote the purpose of this meeting, says the Archbishop, “[on 2 July] we met Orissa Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, the Interior Minister and other state authorities together with Msgr. Theodore Mascarenhas, General Secretary of the Indian Bishops’ Conference (CBCI). We appreciate the goodwill shown to us and we have reiterated to the administration that we do not support violence, hatred or divisions.”

In August 2008, followers of the murdered radical Hindu cleric Saraswati Laxanananda blamed Christians for his death and unleashed the most violent persecution against the Christian minority that India had ever seen. Overall, the pogrom forced 56,000 Christians to flee, with 5,600 houses and 415 villages raided and set on fire.

According to government figures, 38 people were killed and two women raped. Scores of people were injured and permanently maimed. The Church and social activists reported instead the destruction of almost 300 churches, plus convents, schools, hostels and welfare facilities. At least 91 people died, 38 immediately, 41 from injuries sustained in the violence, and 12 in police action.

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