The Catholic Church in Odisha has a new priest, Fr Munib Pradhan, who on Tuesday celebrated his first Mass in front of 1,500 worshipers.
The new clergyman comes from Raikia Parish, in the village of
Bakingia (Kandhamal district), where a group of Hindu extremists
devastated the parish church and sowed terror among Christians in 2004.
Later, in 2008, the district was overwhelmed by a wave of sectarian violence unleashed by extremists.
"Despite the persistent persecution,” said Juano Pradhan, the father of the new priest, “his vocation was stronger."
Fr Pradhan, the fifth of six siblings, remembers when his parish "was
vandalised. There was great fear among Catholics. People wept bitter
tears. Then I witnessed even more atrocious anti-Christian violence, but
I was firm in my faith to follow Jesus and do the Lord's work. "
The priest was ordained on Monday (12 December) by Mgr Aplinar
Senapati, bishop of Rayagada, in a ceremony held in the Church of Our
Lady of Charity in Raikia in the presence of 3,000 faithful, 35
concelebrating priests, and 20 nuns.
The church itself was attacked by a group of 300 Hindu
fundamentalists on 24 August 2004.
Armed with sticks, they broke down
the door, invaded the church and destroyed the statue of the Virgin, the
crucifix and other sacred images. They opened the tabernacle and threw
the Sacrament to the ground. Then they vandalised musical instruments
and vestments, and set fire to the Bible and other liturgical texts.
In addition to the place of worship, the aggressors destroyed the homes of several Catholics.
All Church leaders condemned the criminal acts. Later, in the
2008pogrom, the village saw more persecution. The victims included
32-year-old Rajesh Digal, who was buried alive, and Samuel Digal and his
mother who were burnt alive by extremists.
"The people who live in this region are [materially] poor but rich in
faith, unity and integrity,” said Fr Pradosh Chandra Nayak, Raikia
parish priest. “Eight years ago, our communities in Kandhamal had to go
through the burning furnace of communal violence, a horrific holocaust,
with dignity and nobility, with stoicism and serenity and sacrificed
their lives and liberties.”
At present, “We must draw our strength from Jesus Christ, Our Lord,
and have faith in the words of Tertullian, a Second Century Father of
the Church who said: ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the