MUMBAI, India – Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar is calling on the faithful to provide assistance in the sainthood causes of Christians martyred during the 2008 Kandhamal riots.
The anti-Christian pogrom in Odisha state left roughly 100 people dead, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed, and 50,000 people displaced.
Barwa was speaking Jan. 31 at a Mass for Tribal migrants in Mumbai, where thousands of migrant workers from Odisha live and work. India’s Tribal community are the country’s marginalized indigenous people.
The Mass was organized by PAHUNCH, a ministry for migrants in the Archdiocese of Bombay run by the Redemptorist order. The COVID-19 pandemic has left many migrants workers trapped far from their home states in India, with little or no money, since they often work as day laborers.
During the Mass, Barwa spoke both in Hindi and Sadri, a language spoken in Odisha.
“We are the least,” Barwa told the migrants.
“But God is faithful, He never abandons us. He is always providing for us. You have come to Mumbai for a source of income. A livelihood is important, but be strong in faith. Your faith should never waiver,” the archbishop said.
During the Mass, Barwa spoke about the Kandhamal riots, and told the story of Rajesh Digal.
“He was beaten and then buried alive into a pit with mud thrown on him until it came up to his neck, and they asked: ‘Say for the last time: do you give up Jesus Christ?’ – ‘No!’ They threw a stone and killed him,” he said.
Migrant workers can have a hard life in India. The country is vast, and laborers from poor regions often end up in cities where a different language is spoken and steady work is difficult to find. Migrants also come from India’s Tribal and low-caste Dalit communities, and suffer discrimination based upon their background. Often poorly educated, they can struggle to navigate the municipal and state bureaucracies to receive services.
During the Mass, Barwa made a request of Bishop Alwyn D’Silva, the auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Bombay, to help the Tribal migrants within his territory: To register them at their parish in Mumbai from their place of origin to their place of work; to assist them in getting any necessary government documentation, including their government-issued identity card; and to offer a weekly Sunday Mass in Hindi (the official language in Mumbai is Marathi.)
“Your faith must be strong and must grow, and I thank the Redemptorist Fathers … who through PAHUNCH are helping you in all areas of your lives – economically, spiritually, and in healthcare services and social protection during the pandemic,” Barwa said.
Redemptorist Father Joseph Ivel Mendanha, the provincial superior, said PAHUNCH was “reaching out in solidarity for mission to our wounded brothers and sisters, our migrant community.”
“Through PAHUNCH the Redemptorists keep striving to bring hope in a concrete manner to a significant group of the migrant community, the people of the Chhotanagpur region of the country,” told Crux.
Chhotanagpur includes the eastern Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh.
“The Social Encyclical of Pope Francis – Fratelli Tutti – has been an enormous motivating factor in continuing the work of the Redemptorists through PAHUNCH,” he said.
“The Holy Father calls the Church, and in fact all people, to work together to heal the wounds of a broken, struggling, pained humanity in our time especially ravaged by the pandemic,” the priest explained.
“The image of the Good Samaritan continues to challenge the Church to keep asking the question: Whom am I neighbor to? When we honestly respond to this question we find ourselves motivated to be peacemakers, break down walls and build bridges that unite people irrespective of creed, ethnic background, race, tribe, or any other dividing factors that keep people apart,” Mendanha said.