Bhubaneswar: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) is committed to the “suffering brethren of Kandhamal,” says the head of the highest Catholic body in the country.
“I join in praying and thanking God for the blessings showered upon the Kandhamal Christian community. I want to assure my commitment and the unwavering support of the CBCI to the suffering brethren in Kandhamal,” CBCI president Cardinal Baselios Cleemis wrote in a February 4 letter to Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, head of the Catholic Church in Odisha state.
Kandhamal, a district in the eastern Indian state, was the scene of the worst anti-Christian violence the country witnessed in its modern history. It was the biggest and largest attack in 300 years in Indian history. The violence that lasted nearly four months claimed nearly 100 lives and rendered more than 50,000 homeless.
CBCI has accepted a suggestion from Archbishop Barwa to discuss the anti-Christian persecution of 2007 and 2008 in Kandhamal at its plenary meeting scheduled for March 2-9 at St John’s Medical College Campus, Bangalore, capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
Archbishop Barwa is scheduled to speak for 20 minutes on March 4 giving a panoramic view of Kandhamal violence from 2007 to 2016. He will also answer questions for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile a group of priests and lay people is preparing a detailed list of Kandhamal martyrs, according to the dates of their death, denomination or religion.
Archbishop Barwa, chairperson of the Odisha Catholic Bishops’ Council (OCBC), hailed the CBCI decis9on to address the Kandhamal issue. The Divine Word prelate said it was the first time in eight years the national body of the Indian bishops has expressed its willingness to know about the status of Kandhamal violence.
The Odisha Church wanted the bishops’ conference to discuss the possibilities of observing Kandhamal Martyrs’ Day at national level, initiating the canonization process for Kandhamal martyrs and putting up an exhibition on Kandhamal violence at the plenary venue.
The appeal was made in a December 10 letter that Archbishop Barwa wrote to CBCI deputy secretary general Monsignor Joseph Chinnayyan. The prelate writing on behalf of the Odisha bishops wanted the CBCI plenary to allow 20 minutes for Kandhamal survivors to share their experience. CBCI, however, turned down the request. It also rejected another request to put up an exhibition on Kandhamal at the plenary venue.
Heads of India’s 171 dioceses, auxiliary and retired bishops are expected to attend the assembly that has chosen the theme, “The Response of the Church in India to the present day Challenges.”
The bishops are meeting first time after a coalition headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the pro-Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people’s party) formed the federal government on May 26, 2014. India was in the grip of an election fever when the prelates met last time at Palai in February that year. They addressed the theme, “Renewed Church for a Renewed Society – Responding to the Call of Vatican II.”
Justice Cyriac Joseph, a retired Supreme Court judge and acting chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, will be the main speaker at the next plenary, said CBCI secretary general Archbishop Albert D’Souza of Agra in a report.
The bishops have invited Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to address the plenary. The plenary has slotted some space for eminent persons from other Christian denominations and religions to express their views on the issues the bishops will discuss.
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