3 Years After Anti-Christian Violence, a Call for More Healing

Indian Prelate Says Reconciliation a Work in Progress

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ROME, AUG. 25, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Three years after anti-Christian violence in India caused the death of more than 70 people, an archbishop of the region says more work is needed to bring reconciliation.

Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar told Aid to the Church in Need that there is continuing tension in Kandhamal, Orissa, where three years ago attacks on nearly 300 villages caused the deaths of more than 70 people.

At least 25,000 people fled for their lives in the violence that was sparked by the killing of politician Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, on Aug. 23, 2008.

During the August-September violence, more than 170 churches and chapels were attacked in addition to the 100 others that came under fire during Christmas 2007 attacks in Kandhamal, which prompted 3,000 to leave their homes.

"Over the past three years, a lot has happened toward reconstruction and dialogue," Archbishop Barwa said. "But there are people who are still afraid. There is some progress toward peace and justice but there is still a lot more to be done."

The archbishop, who replaced fellow Divine Word Missionary Archbishop Raphael Cheenath in February, said: "My message is clear: We need peace and tranquillity -- no more violence, no killing. The Christian faithful have the right to be in Kandhamal. They are growing in faith."

The prelate added that justice has been served in Kandhamal but that not all authorities of the area are on board.

"Lower ranking officials disturb us but the higher ranking ones are trying their best," he lamented. "Although good words are spoken about the need for justice, they are not always manifested in terms of action."

The threat of political extremism targeting Christians is a continuing problem not just in Orissa but elsewhere in India. Last Sunday, St. Mary's Catholic Church in Pune, western India, was attacked -- the tabernacle partially burned, religious paintings defaced with graffiti, and Bibles and other religious books ripped and strewn across the floor.

Archbishop Barwa said, "The concerns we have continue -- we have to work toward peace while maintaining our right to be here."