By George Marlin
After severing its colonial ties with Great Britain in 1947, India, a nation of 1.2 billion people, organized a secular Democratic republic that guarantees freedom to practice and propagate one’s faith.
Christianity in India dates back to the Acts of the Apostles, but is the faith of only 2.5 percent of the population today. The total number of Catholics is 19.5 million.
Sadly, in the 21st century, the religious liberty clause in the Indian constitution has been ignored by Hindu fundamentalists who have planned, coordinated, and executed murderous anti-Christian campaigns. On Christmas Day 2008, for example, over 100 Churches and Christian facilities were looted, damaged, or destroyed, and more than 400 Christian houses were gutted.
Since 2008, the focus of Hindu terrorists has been in the jungle district of Kandhamal located in the state of Odisha (formerly Orissa). Over 56,000 of the 117,000 Christians living there have been driven from their homes, with 6,000 of their houses burnt to the ground. Three hundred Churches and holy places have been desecrated or destroyed.
The Christians are being persecuted not only because of their faith, as they are in Egypt and Syria, but because they refuse to renounce it and embrace or re-convert to Hinduism. As a result, thousands of Indians, including priests, nuns, and ministers, have been sadistically tortured. Many have lost limbs; others have been burnt alive. Over 100 have been martyred for the faith.
Reacting to these hideous crimes, the Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, said: “The blood of the martyrs has always been the seed of Christianity. That is the mystery of the Cross! I have no doubt that much blessing from God will be showered upon the people of Odisha and India as a result of the suffering of the Kandhamal Christians.”
But it will come at a heavy price. In his work, Early Christians of the Twenty-first Century, award-winning Indian journalist Anto Akkara, who visited Kandhamal sixteen times, recounts how the anti-Christian violence was orchestrated, and records the testimonies of victims and their families. The volume contains “a collection of over 100 true witnesses to Christ-testimonies soaked in blood, tested and purified by untold suffering.”
Akkara describes how police looked away as churches were being destroyed and further how, in many cases, they refused to report the cause of deaths as murders. To avoid prosecution, Hindu terrorists hid the evidence. The bodies of martyrs were cremated or dumped into bogs or rivulets in the jungle. As for the few cases that went to trial, kangaroo “fast track” courts dismissed or acquitted Hindu bigots, citing lack of evidence.
After a dozen Christian leaders led by Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar confronted Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the orchestrated violence. Singh publicly acknowledged that it was a “national shame,” but took few measures “to restore the confidence of the Christian community.”
For the faithful, India’s constitutional guaranteed freedom of religion and equality before the law remains a meaningless slogan.
There are many heart-wrenching stories in Akkara’s book, but one that particularly struck me involved a 56-year old priest and a 28-year old nun.
Father Thomas Chellan, director of the Divyajyoti Pastoral Center, and his assistant, Sister Meena, managed to escape over a wall of their compound as Hindu terrorists destroyed the complex, which included a church, a large dormitory, and other facilities.
The next day they were captured and just before Chellan’s kerosene-soaked head was torched, there was a last second decision to hold off. Instead, a gang of 50 Hindus beat the priest and nun. “It was like a crucifixion parade,” Father Chellan later recalled.
Their tormentors stripped them of their clothing and began raping Sister Meena. Later they paraded their half-naked prisoners through the streets and Chellan was ordered to rape the nun: “When I refused, they kept beating me and dragged us to the nearby government office. Sadly, a dozen policemen were watching all this quietly.”
Finally, a senior policeman took them to a police station 12 kilometers away and their ordeal ended. The next day they were released and flown to Mumbai for treatment.
Sister Meena, who recovered from her traumatic ordeal, refused to be silent. She went public, held a press conference in front of 200 television cameras in New Delhi and demanded an investigation into her rape. She described everything in gruesome detail and reported that the police tried to dissuade her from lodging a criminal complaint after the mandatory medical test confirmed the rape.
“Maybe God wanted me to suffer with our people and become an instrument to speak up for the voiceless people of Kandhamal,” she told the media. Sister Meena concluded by publicly thanking God “for choosing me to face this humiliation and giving me the opportunity to suffer for the people of Kandhamal. I got a chance to undergo the experience of being crucified.”
The rock-like faith of Sister Meena and thousands of others inspired Anto Akkara to write his book. He believes they deserve the title “Early Christians of the Twenty-first Century” because they held on to their faith “amid diabolic cruelty, rampant impunity, and state apathy.”
Mr. Marlin is Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org
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It’s hard to miss the news today: in Pakistan earlier this month, more than 80 people died in a bomb attack on a Protestant Church; last weekend, assailants killed three members of a Christian wedding party in Egypt; in Syria, Jihadists are ever more brazen in their determination to target Christians. But, still, President Obama and other leaders in the West—though remembering the victims and acknowledging the evil in passing—are not making any concerted effort to make this particular slaughter of innocents a foreign policy priority.
However, at least here in the US, a new book may help tilt matters in the right direction. The National Catholic Reporter’s well-known reporter John Allen just published “The Global War on Christians—Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution” (Image). Aid to the Church in Need is grateful to John for his generous acknowledgement of our organization as a key player when it comes to supporting the suffering and persecuted Church, and as an important resource for his exhaustive research and reporting.
The book—which could serve as a policy primer for both Western politicians and religious leaders, even as it educates the lay audience as well—sets out to give the lie to a number of what the author labels as pernicious myths: “the myth that Christians are at risk only where they’re a minority; “the myth that no one saw it coming;” “the myth that it’s all about Islam;” “the myth that it is only persecution if the motives are religious;” and “the myth that anti-Christian persecution is a political issue.”
Significantly, John opens the book with a reflection on why, indeed, governments and even Western religious institutions have been so silent in the face of the global persecution of Christians. “On the whole,” he writes, “the war on Christians remains the world’s best-kept secret.” He cites the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, who reflects on the ever worsening plight of Arab Christians in the Middle East: “Does anybody hear our cry? How many atrocities must we endure before somebody, somewhere, comes to our aid?”
John cites a number of reasons for the silence on the part of the secular world: there is an overall ignorance of religious issues, as well as a “reflexive hostility to institutional religion … [and people] conditioned by such views are inclined to see Christianity as the agent of repression, not its victim.” Then there is the fact that “the war on Christians is also simply too far away.” Moreover, the author writes, persecuted Christians fall through the cracks of the left-right divide—they are too Christian for liberals and too foreign for conservatives.
In the end, secular inaction might be expected, John suggests, but what about the relative silence of mainstream Western Christianity? One key reason, he writes, is that Christians in the US and Western Europe have no personal experience of persecution, plus there is the “broad tendency” in the West to “see the primary function as promoting inner peace and tranquility.” Dwelling on the often incredibly cruel treatment of Christians abroad is simply not very pleasant and hence easily avoided.
Then there is the heavy investment in interfaith initiatives on the part of mainstream Christianity in the West, which has produced what John calls “the risk of ‘interfaith correctness’” that basically avoids confrontation with the world of Islam or Hinduism. Finally, the author points the finger at “a distressing share of Christian time and treasure today [being] eaten up by internal battles, making it difficult to galvanize a unified response on anything.”
We heartily salute John upon the publication of this powerful and important book. We join him in calling on all Christians and people of good will to “wake up”—as the back of the book jacket urges—to the plight of the suffering and persecuted Church. On countless occasions, our founder, Father Werenfried van Straaten, insisted upon a truth that John here gives a dynamic, contemporary spin: Christians in the West are called to come to the aid of persecuted and suffering brothers and sisters, with whom they form one body in Christ—the gift of faith comes with a huge responsibility.
Please click here for information and a sample chapter from “The Global War on Christians—Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )