Injured Priest Tells of Hindu-Extremist Attack

Assailants Attempted to Burn Him Alive

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NEW DELHI, India, SEPT. 8, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A priest who has survived the wave of attacks on Christians by Hindu extremists in India considers himself safe "in the hands of God."

The account of Father Edward Sequeira was made available to ZENIT by one of his seminary classmates, Father Edwin Vas of the Society of the Divine Word.

Father Sequeira was the victim of an attack Aug. 25; a young laywoman who worked at the orphanage where he worked did not survive.

The Indian state of Orissa has been the scene of a spate of anti-Christian violence that intensified at the end of August after a Hindu leader, Swami Laxmananada Saraswati, was killed. Extremists placed the blame for his death on Christians. In fact, the eastern Indian state has long been plagued by Christian-Hindu violence, as Christian missionaries work with poor tribal peoples of the region and Hindus accuse them of forcing or bribing conversions.

Benedict XVI appealed for an end to the violence after the general audience of Aug. 27, and last Sunday was declared a day of prayer and fasting for peace in India.

Father Vas reported Father Sequeira's account of the day he was attacked.

He recounted: "[Father Edward] came back to his residence to have lunch. […] Some people came to see him, and asked him, 'Who is the priest here?' Father Edward thought they must have come for some help like, somebody is sick and needs to be taken to the hospital. So he said, 'I am the one.' When he looked outside he saw there were about 20 people with sticks, iron bars, shovels and spades. He realized what was going to happen. So he tried to close the door. […]

"Anyhow they managed to pull Father Edward out and then started beating him all over. […] So he has fractures now on both shoulders, on his right hand and his skull is broken at the back of his head. […] This [beating] went on for 45 minutes and then Father Edward collapsed. Meanwhile some others had gone inside the house […] they set fire and came out."

The priest explained that the assailants proceeded to lock Father Sequeira in the house.

Not alone

"Remember Father Edward has lost his strength and had collapsed," Father Vas went on. "But at this moment, when he was alone inside the burning house, he realized he was not alone. There was Jesus with him. He experienced tremendous strength at this moment. He experienced Jesus not as a separate entity from him, but, 'He in me and I in him.' He experienced Jesus suffering in him. […]

"He collected half a bucket of water and went and threw it in his bed room and the fire went off. Miracle?

"He filled another half bucket of water and threw it in the office and the same result. Fire in the office was put off. He had a deep sense that God was with him. He went back to the bathroom and locked himself inside."

Father Vas went on to report that as the assailants tried to find Father Sequeira and confirm his death, despite the smoke filling the house, young Rajani Majhi arrived. The 19-year-old student was a helper at the orphanage.

Before Father Sequeira lost consciousness he heard the young woman scream, "Father they are going to burn me." Majhi, though a Hindu, was killed. Father Sequeira learned of her death only two days later, from the hospital.

The priest said the efforts of two doctors, including a Baptist missionary, were the key to saving his life. They heard of the attack and managed to get an ambulance and fire fighters to the scene -- some four and a half hours after the arrival of the assailants.

Father Sequeira is now recovering in a hospital in Mumbai.

"When people come and tell him, 'We are praying for you,'" Father Vas reported, "he says, 'Do not pray for me, I am in the safe hands of God, you go and work for the rights of the minorities.' Father Edward believes that God has saved him miraculously and he has a purpose for him."