Christian Victims of 2008 Kandhamal Riots Offer Forgiveness to Perpetrators

ICC Note: The 2008 anti-Christian riots that swept across India’s Odisha state are still remembered as the worst instance of Christian persecution in India’s modern history. On the tenth anniversary of the start of the violence, Christians in India gathered to remember those killed in the violence and offer forgiveness to the perpetrators. While little has been done to bring justice to the victims of the violence, this strong Christian witness has actually converted many of the perpetrators.

09/13/2018 India (National Catholic Register) – Half a dozen major events in both Odisha and New Delhi marked the 10th anniversary of the worst persecution of Christians in India in the modern era.

Christian targets in the idyllic jungle district of eastern Odisha state went up in flames following the August 2008 slaying of Hindu nationalist monk Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in his hermitage in Kandhamal.

The body of the mysteriously slain Hindu leader was promptly displayed across Kandhamal in a funeral procession. Alleging the murder as a “Christian conspiracy,” Hindu nationalists promoting the two-day display called for revenge on Christians, leading to a bloodbath.

In the aftermath, nearly 100 Christians were killed, and 300 churches and 6,000 houses were plundered in unabated violence, rendering 56,000 people homeless when thousands of Christians refused to recant their faith, as ordered by the Hindu mob.

Advocacy groups and researchers expressed anger and frustration — over a lack of justice and even compensation for victims of the orchestrated violence — in protests held in New Delhi, in Odisha’s capital of Bhubaneswar, and in Phulbani, the administrative headquarters of Kandhamal district.

A decade later, the Catholic Church’s observance of the tragedy was cool and sober. A dozen bishops from other parts of the country joined six bishops of Odisha in a solemn Mass of thanksgiving Aug. 26, with the message of reconciliation.

“We are here to give thanks for the valiant witness of Kandhamal Christians. Those who embraced martyrdom, those had to live in the jungles for months for their faith,” said Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, in his homily during the Aug. 26 celebration in Bhubaneswar.

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