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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Missionaries of Charity are among the refugees in the forests of Orissa

by Nirmala Carvalho

The regional superior of the Missionaries of Charity recounts her visit to the district of Kandhamal, struck by anti-Christian violence last Christmas, a scene of unimaginable destruction. Also with her was Sister Nirmala Joshi, who has written a letter calling for reconciliation.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "No one could ever have imagined the unbridled reign of terror unleashed against the Christian community in this part of Orissa" at the end of December. Sister M. Suma, regional superior of the Missionaries of Charity (MC), shares her impressions with AsiaNews following her visit to the district of Kandahar, the scene of anti-Christian violence last Christmas. The superior general of the order founded by Mother Teresa, Sister Nirmala Joshi, also visited the site of these incidents.

"We have three houses in Kandhamal", Sister Suma's account begins, "and all of our sisters had to flee together with the other Christians seeking to save themselves from the fury of the Hindu extremists. They escaped with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and hid in the forests without anything to eat or any way of sheltering from the winter cold". Meanwhile, in Sasanada, the militants damaged the house of the Missionaries of Charity: this was located in a little church where the inhabitants usually go to Sunday Mass. The chapel was completely destroyed in desecrated. "It was heartbreaking to see Mother Mary’s statues all smashed and burned", Sister Suma acknowledges, "and the MC House looted".

Sister Suma arrived in the stricken area on December 28. Together with some of her fellow sisters, she brought supplies to help the people in hiding. "We were greeted with such joy", she explains, "not because of the food and other relief we carried for them, but because we symbolised the hope that had sustained them as they hid from their persecutors in hunger and in the biting cold".

The religious sister says that "the convents in Balliguda and Phulbanii had been set on fire by a mobs carrying swords and other weapons who entered the convent shouting 'Kill the Christians'. Sadly, nearly every convent we visited had the same tragic tale to tell".

On January 16, Sister Nirmala Joshi also arrived in Orissa. She came by train, without alerting the authorities in advance. "I took her to see all the schools, parishes and convents that were attacked in the area", Sister Suma recounts. "We also met with the sisters, brothers and all people who were victims of the attack. However, on January 19th the government officials came to know of Mother Nirmala's visit and came to the K. Nuaga diocesan pastoral centre where we were staying to enquire about who was touring the district. Although they did not recognise Sr Nirmala, they immediately provided her with a police escort". At the end of the visit, the superior general wrote a letter addressed to all "without distinction of caste or creed", calling them to reconciliation and forgiveness.

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