Catholic news service and other media outlets report that continued attacks in India's Orissa state have left nearly 50 people dead. News of the mass murder of Christians began back in August when Hindus reacted to the murder of a prominent “guru” or Hindu teacher by blaming Christians for the death. Pray that reason, charity and dialog will win out over mindless hatred and violence.
A report in Catholic News Service says that on 30 September one woman was axed to death and 10 people were wounded as anti-Christian violence in Orissa entered a sixth week. This killing raised the number of confirmed deaths to 47 in the violence that began in the eastern Indian state Aug. 24. In the predawn attack, groups of armed Hindu extremists descended on Gadaguda and Rudangia villages in Orissa's Kandhamal district and selectively attacked Christian homes, Father Leo Parichha, the parish priest, told the Asian church news agency UCA News. The attackers came with gasoline bombs, swords, axes and knives and "brutally attacked sleeping families," said the priest, who left the parish for safety in late August after the anti-Christian violence began. The priest said his parish covers both villages. Several days earlier, on the night of Sept. 25, hundreds of fanatics destroyed the church, the priest's house and the Missionaries of Charity convent in the parish compound.
AsiaNews.it has also widely reported on the attacks, that over 60,000 Catholics and other Christians have been forced from their homes by the widespread violence and unrest. Churches, homes, schools and other Christian institutions have been burned to the ground. The agents of this hatred do not shrink even from attacking targeting priests and religious who are also giving their lives in the pogrom.
The Union of Catholic Asian News reports on one on of the most prominent victims. The mutilated body of a Catholic priest, Father Thomas Pandipally, was found on August 17 on a deserted road in southern India's Andhra Pradesh state. Pandipally, 37, a Carmelite of Mary Immaculate (CMI) priest, lay near Yellareddy town, 325 kilometers northwest of Hyderabad, the state capital, about 1,500 kilometers south of New Delhi.
Father Pandipally had been pastor of Jeevadhan (gift of life) Church and vice-principal of a Church-run high school, both in Yellareddy.
According to the provincial, Father Pandipally was returning home on August 16 evening after offering Mass in Burgiga, a mission station 25 kilometers from Yellareddy. He stopped at a Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC) convent at Lingampet for dinner and left around 9:45 p.m. His body was found the next morning halfway to Yellareddy, 15 kilometers from Lingampet.
Father Thannippara said 18 stab wounds on the priest's body reveal that he tried to block his attackers. "His palms had several cuts. He was pulled down from his motorbike and taken to a small bridge near the road," he explained.
Father Thannippara also noted that severe wounds on his confrere's head had caused Father Pandipally's death. "His body was left in the middle of the road," the provincial added. "His motorcycle was found seven kilometers away from the body. The assailants probably drove it and left it."
The FCC sisters drove past the body while going for Mass at the parish on Sunday morning. Father Thannippara said they did not stop because they did not recognize it, but after learning that the priest and his bike were missing and his room was locked, they went back and identified his body.
The police came with a dog squad and forensic experts, but heavy rain the night before had washed away all clues, Father Thannippara also said. He added that police have no clue as to the murderers, but he suspects two groups.
The Church school, he said, has been doing quite well in a town where several private schools struggle to get students, so "they may have a grudge against us." He also suspects some villagers against whom the FCC sisters filed a police case after they opposed the nuns' setting up an AIDS center. He said the accused villagers threatened the nuns in an attempt to get them to withdraw the case, and damaged a Sacred Heart statue in the convent.
Father George Moolayil, in charge of education for the CMI province in the state, told UCA News that when he inspected Father Pandipally's corpse, he found "the entire body had turned blue from severe battering," and one eye was pierced and several limbs were broken. Father Moolayil insists that the murder was meticulously planned because the deceased priest received a call on his cell phone just before leaving the convent in Lingampet. According to Father Moolayil, the caller wanted to know if Father Pandipally would be returning to his residence.
Also on August 17, some nuns in Yellareddy received a call asking about Father Pandipally's whereabouts. When a nun replied that the priest had met with an accident, the caller wanted to know if it was an accident or a murder, Father Moolayil recounted. She then asked who was on the line but the caller hung up.
According to Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad, the murder has shocked the Church in Andhra Pradesh. He told UCA News on Aug. 18 that he rushed to Yellareddy to express solidarity and encourage local Catholics. The "brutal murder" will not make the archdiocese close the parish, he said, because such incidents cannot frighten the Church, but he plans to meet state authorities to demand justice.
Pray that through the intercession of Father Pandipally and the martyrs of India that the peace which can come only from God may prevail and that reason and religion may work together for the common good as our Holy Father Benedict teaches.
(Fr Cusick's column appears weekly in The Wanderer Catholic newspaper.