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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sister Nirmala Meets Orissa Chief Minister, Prays With Him For Peace

From the Union of Catholic Asia News

BHUBANESWAR, India (UCAN) -- The head of the Missionaries of Charity congregation met the chief minister of Orissa on Oct. 7 to express the Church's concern over anti-Christian violence in the eastern Indian state.

Sister Nirmala Joshi, who succeeded Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as congregational leader, told UCA News on Oct. 8 their "cordial" meeting ended with both praying together for peace in the state.

The diminutive nun met Naveen Patnaik, who heads Orissa's two-party coalition government, and presented him a letter explaining the Church's concern over the six-week-long Hindu violence against Christians in the state.

At the end, Patnaik, Sister Nirmala and local Missionaries of Charity superior Sister Suma prayed together Saint Francis of Assisi's famous prayer, "Lord make me a channel of your peace."

The meeting took place inside the chief minister's office in the state capital of Bhubaneswar, 1,745 kilometers southeast of New Delhi. Sister Nirmala's letter thanked the chief minister for the "strong action" he has taken in the past few days to check the violence.

According to sources in Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, the situation in the state is "better now," with no violence having been reported since Oct. 3. The violence began after the murder of a Hindu leader on Aug. 23 and has claimed at least 52 lives to date.

Hindu extremists have also burned down around 4,500 houses and 100 churches. The most-affected area is Kandhamal district, where the slain Hindu leader was based. Some 50,000 Christians have been driven from their homes there and hundreds were forced to convert to Hinduism.

Sister Nirmala's letter said it was "sad to see" innocent people being attacked and forced to live without their religious freedom. Such acts degrade Hinduism, which respects all religions, remarked the nun, a Hindu convert to Catholicism.

Her letter said she wanted the chief minister to continue taking "strong actions" to help restore peace and normalcy in the state, particularly in Kandhamal.

Meanwhile, the state police reported they have arrested 1,000 troublemakers from the affected areas. They also claimed to have arrested five people who were in a mob that attacked a Catholic priest and nun on Aug. 25, as well as the man who raped the 28-year-old nun.

Sister Nirmala told UCA News she was glad the administration has started taking "strong action" and expected such measures to continue and help build confidence among people so they can go back to their villages from relief camps.

An estimated 25,000 people now live in 17 relief camps, including one Sister Nirmala's nuns run about 20 kilometers from Bhubaneswar. Almost an equal number of people reportedly live scattered in city slums and with relatives elsewhere, archdiocesan sources said.

Sister Nirmala's letter brought to the chief minister's notice that the camp dwellers live without the chance to practice their faith, and she stressed the need for them to be able to return to their villages.

Meanwhile, a group of some 40 riot-affected people met Orissa Governor M.C. Bhandare on Oct. 7. State opposition leader J.B. Patnaik led them, demanding a high-level probe into the sectarian violence. The governor represents the Indian president in a state.

They reportedly dismissed the state's claim that affected people have started to return to villages from the relief camps. People leave relief camps, they acknowledged, but go to distant places because they do not feel safe in the villages.

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