MUMBAI, India – A 2008 anti-Christian pogrom in Kandahamal in eastern India that ended with at least 100 people dead, hundreds injured and thousands homeless left deep wounds in the impoverished and illiterate rural communities it affected.
Yet two recent vocations stories suggest that new Christian life is stirring, even where militant Hindu radicals tried to wipe it out eight years ago.
On December 8, the Sisters of the Handmaids of Mary celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and during Mass seven of the sisters renewed their vows. The group included Sister Meena Barwa, who was gang-raped and beaten in 2008 but managed to survive her ordeal.
Meena told Crux, “It’s a day of great joy, which invigorates and encourages us in our spiritual lives and in our mission.”
Meena says that after her nightmare of an ordeal she better understands, “the value of life. I have experienced many miracles in life. By all these, I am simply pulled away to God. I have no regrets.
“My understanding is this way: Jesus experienced the pain in my body, as a woman, that was lacking in his as a man. Violence was in fact done to Jesus and the Church,” she said.
“God has kept me alive once again to see His endless love and His glory,” Meena said. “I am convinced of this.”
Then on December 12, two local Kandhamal deacons were ordained to the priesthood. They too were in the maelstrom of the pogrom.
Balabanto Rana Singh and Munib Pradhan were ordained by Bishop Aplinar Senapati to the Congregation of Mission at Our Lady of Charity Church, Raikia.
Munib Pradhan’s family home was attacked in Raikia in 2008, and his father and brother escaped to the forests to escape from the mobs during the violence which lasted many weeks.
“In August 2004, this very Church was attacked and desecrated by right-wing extremists,” Father Madan Singh, Director of the Jana Vikas, a grassroots organization based in Kandhamal told Crux, adding, “The persecuted church of Kandhamal is giving two children for the work of God.”
The Kandahamal riots marked the worst anti-Christian violence in India’s recent history, with more than 100 Christians killed, more than 300 churches and Christian homes destroyed or badly damaged, and 56,000 Christians left homeless.
Archbishop John Barwa of Bhubaneswar, which includes Kandhamal, is also Sister Meena’s uncle. He told Crux, “These ordinations are a source of great joy, the faith of our people is unshakable.”
“Persecution has not destroyed the faith of our people, instead it has strengthened their faith,” he said. “The unwavering witness of the Kandhamal Christians is a powerful witness and Hope for the Christian Faith.”
Meena Barwa, the archbishop’s niece, said, “life is full of challenges, which are opportunities to mature and to grow in Faith and in the Love of Jesus…Actually it is exciting. The more challenges, life is more meaningful. I am thankful to God. If He is using me I am thrilled with joy.”
“My wish,” she said, “is to be used by God.”
Barwa’s religious order focuses on education, social work and medical care for all people, but most of all for the most vulnerable members of society.