The Catholic Church in India is marking the first anniversary of a of a wave of violent attacks against Christians in Orissa that saw scores killed, and tens of thousands of others driven from their homes.

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Anniversary of Orissa persecution

One year after the start of a wave of violent attacks against Christians in Orissa, India, the country’s Catholics joined in fasting and prayer for peace.

Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes, secretary general of the Indian bishops’ conference, issued this appeal to the country’s Catholic dioceses: to pray for peace, harmony and a spirit of reconciliation in a particular way this past Sunday.

A press release from the conference noted that this appeal was made in remembrance of the violent attacks against Christians after the Aug. 23, 2008, murder of the Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in the Kandhamal district in the state of Orissa.

Hindu extremists blamed Christians for the slaying.

In the ensuing weeks, dozens of Christians, including a priest, were killed, and more than 54,000 fled their homes. Thousands of them are still living in displacement camps.

The violence spread to some 400 towns, and it is estimated that around 5,000 houses, 150 churches, and 40 schools were destroyed or burned to the ground.

The archbishop urged Christians to “adhere to the Christian principle of forgiveness and move forward so as to build a strong and integrated civil society.”

At his request, Catholics in India joined in a fast on Sunday to show solidarity with their suffering brothers and sisters.

The prelate also urged Church members to be generous in contributing toward the rebuilding of destroyed homes.

New beginning

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai and president of the conference, affirmed that last year was “one of the saddest moments in the history of India,” AsiaNews reported today.

He prayed for “the grace of a new beginning” to help the Indian people to “live in peaceful coexistence, mutual acceptance, tolerance and peace.”

The cardinal continued: “What happened in Kandhamal is a disgrace to the nation. The anniversary of the violence against Christians is a day of prayer in all the churches in India.”

He affirmed that now, one year after the attacks began, he is “still worried for our minorities and also for religious freedom.”

Cardinal Gracias stated that in many places, Christians have been threatened and “often do not have the freedom to pray together.”

He called on the government to “have religious freedom and the security of minorities as its priority.”

Last year, the prelate said, “our pleas fell on deaf ears” and the “killings, kidnappings, burnings and violence against Christians went on for a long time.”

He affirmed that while he remains concerned, there are nonetheless signs of hope that things will change for the better.

The conference communiqu also reported that in a parallel campaign, the New Delhi-based Indo Global Social Service Society delivered a memorandum to the Indian president Sunday, to highlight the plight of Christians, especially in Orissa.

NEW DELHI, India, AUG. 24, 2009 (Zenit.org)