Editor’s Note: In 2008, an orgy of violence descended upon the impoverished Christian minority of Kandhamal, a district of the eastern Indian state of Odisha. A series of riots led by radical Hindus left roughly 100 people dead, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed and 50,000 people displaced, many forced to hide in nearby forests where more died of hunger and snakebites. With most victims being members of India’s Tribal and Dalit underclasses, the assault remains the most lethal anti-Christian pogrom of the early 21st century. Archbishop John Barwa, whose own niece was raped during the onslaught, leads the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar where Kandhamal is located, and Crux asked him for an Easter reflection on the experience.

Easter heralds the message of joy and hope, amidst trials and tribulations. It’s a floodgate of God’s love and mercy, joyfully remembered as the feast that gives happiness when we pass through suffering, ignominy and even elimination.

In today’s world, the experience of suffering can be seen in different forms—when people in power or government become arrogant, when the rich are insensitive to the poor, and when extremists in the name of religion or any other ideology become cruel and inhuman.

Consequently, many innocent poor, women and children are being crucified even today.

During this Easter season, we cannot but recall painfully what happened in the Kandhamal district in Odisha, eastern India, which witnessed the scene of unprecedented attacks on Christians in 2007 and 2008. The violence lasted for nearly four months, rendering more than 50,000 people homeless and claiming more than 98 lives, including 32 Catholics and 66 others.

It was an attempt to destroy the Christian faith by burning and destroying churches and chapels, annihilating Christians by killing our people, and impoverishing us by looting and damaging property worth millions.

Contrary to the expectation of the perpetrators, however, many good things have happened in the post-violence period. As St. Tertulian said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.”

As a tribute to the sacrifice of our martyrs, we have initiated efforts to honor them. We are eagerly awaiting that one day the Vatican will declare them “Odisha Martyrs” who died for their faith, and we have started the process to collect required evidences about their lives and testimonies.

Meanwhile the Odisha Bishops’ Regional Council has decided to celebrate the “Odisha Martyrs Day” on August 30 every year, a day that follows the feast of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist. On behalf of the Odisha Bishops, I have requested the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India to declare it a national celebration. We hope this will happen soon.

In addition, we are planning to erect an “Odisha Martyrs Memorial and Museum” in Kandhamal as a fitting tribute to the Odisha Martyrs, in order to keep their faith and memory alive.

I am confident to say that although about eight years have passed, the anti-Christian pogrom is not fully forgotten. It still hounds the people who were affected by it, yet they have managed to journey on in their lives with great care.

Their Christian faith and hope has nurtured them to cope with their suffering. Although they lost their loved ones and property, and endured unspeakable pain and suffering, nobody or nothing would separate them from the love of Christ. This is something we are proud of.

The people of Kandhamal district in particular, and the people of Odisha in general, are still being crucified in many visible and invisible ways in terms of injustice. They face many challenges—human dignity, sustainable livelihood options, social exploitation and exclusion, economic inequality, religious intolerance, and freedom to practice their religion of choice.

Like our people of Kandhamal, in many parts of the world others also face challenges that stifle their lives and continue to experience the varied forms of suffering and crucifixion. We wish and pray that things would improve in the days to come.

Against the backdrop of these stark realities, we look at the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus with greater trust in him illuminated by our faith. The Christ-event does have power to transform our lives and destiny of the world with Easter joy with renewed hope, because it inspires to live with sense and purpose.

This is the fruit of Easter.

I am happy and proud to share that the Easter celebration this year in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar was solemn and peaceful. Faithful in large numbers participated in the Holy Triduum, an expression of their growing faith in the lord.

I sincerely hope that the faith of my people will grow unceasingly with God’s grace, and that we will become a vibrant church for the greater glory of God.

Easter is a day of hope for the suffering masses. We pray to the Risen Lord to be our inspiration, hope, support and joy. The effects of the resurrection on the apostles was seen in the newness of their lives and mission, and in the same spirit, I want my people to experience the Easter joy and recommit to newness of life and mission in Christ.

Archbishop John Barwa heads the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar in India and serves as Chairman of the Odisha Catholic Bishops’ Council.