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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

I have come to set the earth on fire" (Lk 12:49) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

Monthly Reflections

"Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted" (Matthew 5:10) - Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.

Christianity is identified with the Cross. Persecution should not come as a surprise to Christians, because it is part of the package offered by Jesus to His followers. St. Peter exhorts the Church, "Beloved do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. " (1 Peter 4:12) Jesus clearly laid out the the cross as the condition for discipleship – "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24) Jesus himself gives the assurance that those who would follow Him and the gospel would in fact "receive a hundredfold" of blessings and "persecutions" (ref. Mark 10:30).

Yet the tragic events in the Kandhamal hill district of Orissa in the Christmas week, from 22 December 2007 to 1 January 2008, have come as a terrible shock to all right thinking people. The statistics are shocking. The revelations of the news agencies about the sequence of events, the new extent of violence and the hatred and indifference of the fanatic groups and authorities is indeed spine chilling. No wonder then that not one of the mainstream press publications have dared to publish details of the happenings

"They Will Deliver You Up To Tribulations" (Matthew 24:9)

Here is a brief overview of some facts of the anti-Christian violence in this week as revealed by BosNewsLife, ICNS:

• 5 big parish churches and 50 smaller churches have been either attacked or destroyed by the right-wing fanatics. Also, six convents, three presbyteries, six hostels, two minor seminaries, one vocational training centre and one leprosy centre of the Church have also been destroyed or attacked by the Sangh Privar members. The burning of the medical centre and hostels speak of a criminal disregard for humanity and the welfare of the people.

• Nine people were killed and 400 houses gutted in these attacks. This is the biggest recorded case of such alleged number of Christian houses burnt.

• This is the first time in history since Independence that maybe 3,000 Christian, men, women and children are forced to live in two refugee camps, eating boiled rice not fit for human consumption because of the quality of sand and grit, and living in the cold with no toilets, precious little medical care and no woollens.

The irony is not lost. In the Super Cyclone and other natural disasters that devastated the state of Orissa in the past, Christian NGOs and Church groups were almost always the first to set up relief camps and rehabilitation projects for the common people irrespective of the consideration of religion and ethnic identity.

• In certain villages where the male members of the family are staying in the jungle, the officials are demanding the female members to bring their husbands else they would not receive relief materials. On the other hand, when the male members come to the camp from the jungle, the police are booking them on false cases and arresting them.

• The Christian community and its institutions were targeted for more than 48 hours with the police looking on, and being physically present at the spot in many cases.

It is beyond doubt that the violence was premeditated, preplanned and the work of a well-disciplined group to ensure simultaneous eruption across the Kandhamala district within hours of the first incident, and to sustain it for five days despite the presence of the highest police officers in the region. It is clear the main attackers were the upper caste.

• Church buildings are broken, nuns manhandled, priests chased away, convent cows killed and their straw set afire. These are heinous crimes. The ravishing of statues of Mary, grinding her face under foot till nothing remains but shreds, desecrating the Host, and vandalizing of ritual holy material before setting everything on fire speaks of diabolic hatred. The vent poses an immediate threat to the ideals of secularism and freedom of faith, the right to life and the right to dignity enshrined in the constitution of India.

• The conclusion from the facts of the Fact Finding Team is that this is “a tragedy that was waiting to happen and a tragedy that could repeat itself.” Orissa has an unhappy history of recorded and unrecorded persecution of Christians, including the burning alive of Australian leprosy mission worker Graham Stuart Staines and his sons, Phillp and Timothy, and Fr. Arul in 1999, attacks in the Rakia block of the Kandhamal.

• In one of the villages, Hindu extremists forced Christians to say, “We became Hindu” and gave them a paper to sign the conversion.

• Nuns of two convents were stripped naked and paraded in the market too.

• Seven Christian girls, ninth grade students of a boarding school are missing.

The grief is unspeakable, the violence seems mindless. Yet, this is a moment that demands a response from each of us. We cannot entertain revenge or helplessness or despair. We need to take on the response we see at Calvary.

"Have This Mind Among Yourselves, Which Is Yours In Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5)

Firstly, from the face of all cruelties what came out of Jesus as a breath was the prayer of forgiveness, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:24) The horror of Orissa is the horror of Calvary re-enacted. Hence what the Lord demands from us is to have the prayer of Calvary re-echoed in our hearts.

On Calvary, victory was not for the evil of the Jewish religious leaders, the cowardice of the Roman civil authorities or the cruelty of the soldiers; but for the crucified Jesus who prayed for His persecutors. That one prayer like a lightning from heaven dispelled the pitch darkness of the evil of the cross and ushered in the salvation of humankind. It is not the atrocity of the killer but the love of the victim that triumphed on Calvary and shows us the way of salvation. This unfortunate moment of the history of the Church in India is a blessed opportunity to prove to the world that love is greater than hatred and faith is more powerful than cowardice. We shall become more than conquerors as St. Paul reminds us. (Romans 8:35-39)

"Many Were Gathered Together And Were Praying" (Acts 12:12)

Secondly, at the foot of Calvary was the binding together of the first community of faithful witnesses. Persecution unites and strengthens those who are true to the Lord. Hence the tragedy of Orissa demands us to be united and share their grief and support them in their hour of helplessness and shock. This unity has to be lived with commitment on three fronts. We are called to be united in prayer. We are obliged in our dioceses, our parishes, in our prayer groups and families pray earnestly for our brothers and sisters shattered mercilessly. Their lot seems very dismal. The Fact Finding Team has described this as “a tragedy that was waiting to happen and a tragedy that could repeat itself. “ Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Bhubaneswar-Cuttack had stated, “Despite several days of continuous violence in Orissa against Christians, adequate security has yet not been provided to the community.” The Christians have been rendered totally vulnerable. Yet our prayer can transform this entire episode as a fruitful hour of mission and bring healing, courage and protection to the persecuted church. The Book of Acts records how earnest intercession of the early Church delivered their leader St. Peter from the death on the very night of his execution. (Acts 12:1-17) Herod was set to extinguish Peter thinking when the leader of the Christians was killed, the entire group would be dissolved. And Peter was finally caught and kept in prison with four squads of soldiers guarding him! "But earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church." (Acts 12:5) And “the very night when Herod was about to bring him out", an angel of the Lord led Peter out of bondage and restored him to the praying community. Indeed, more things are wrought by prayer than this world could ever dream of!

"The Company Of Those Who Believed Were Of One Heart And Soul" (Acts 4:32)

This may seem very basic but we need to be united in opinion and wholehearted in our support. St. Paul exhorts us to "Weep with those who weep." (Romans 12:15) We must know that we cannot afford to be arrogant or for as the Word exhorts us, "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in one body." (Hebrews 13:3) Our unity must be expressed by our being of one mind and heart with the persecuted.

Probably greater than the horror of the physical assault was the political and official condoning, if not actual support to the activities of criminal and political activists spreading bigotry, the ideology of hate and violence. But most painful and shattering at this moment is the unthinking, careless and cold remarks from within the community itself. It was such a shock to hear certain members of the church itself passing comments like - “They must have brought this on themselves. We never know what really happened.” It brought in for me a rush of memories from the recent past when we, at the Divine Retreat Centre too, were under fire of false allegations and media and police excesses. There were members of the church who were too busy and too self-concerned to offer support. Prejudicial condemnation and self-righteous remarks that came from certain corners of the Church hurt us indeed.

No suffering is justifiable. And for those who carelessly condemn and judge and pass verdict on those who suffer – they are a shame to the name of Jesus. What we have done to the least of our brethren, we have done to Christ. And if we have not just ignored the wounded brother but gone further to take a judgemental and cruel stand of “He deserves it”, we can be sure we are a shame to the Name of Jesus. We cannot grieve both our wounded brethren and our Lord more than this.

"You Will Glorify God…By the Generosity Of Your Contribution For Them" (2 Cor 9:13)

Thirdly we need to express our unity by our action. The Government has not given them anything, neither the basics of living, financial compensation, or even adequate security. If and when some compensation is doled out, as the government promises to, we know that very little will reach the affected. We need to contribute to rebuild the Church of Orissa and its faithful. We need to express in material terms our solidarity with them and restore to them the sense of security. When the Church was persecuted in Jerusalem and the followers of Christ were in dire need, St. Paul exhorted the Churches in Galatia and Corinth to take a collection every Sunday and he himself delivered the amount to the Church in need at Jerusalem. (ref. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2)

We also need in one voice to place an appeal to the government and remind them that we Christians are also citizens of this country with equal rights like anyone else. It is our duty to remind and exhort authorities of what is owed to us.

This is an hour of blinding pain. Yet our pain should not blind us to the glory that God holds for the entire Church through this hour of passion. As St. Peter reminds us "to rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you." (1 Peter 4:13-14)

 
Divine Updates

MAGNIFICAT in Chennai

Divine comes to Chennai with the 'Magnificat on October 21,2017. Fr. Jacob Arimpur VC will lead the services. Music by Worship Culture. With special sessions for children.

Venue: Stella Maris College, Cathedral Road

MAGNIFICAT in Bangalore

Celebrate an evening with our Lord in Bangalore at the 'Magnificat' on October 14, 2017. Services to be led by Fr Jacob Arimpur VC. All are welcome.

Venue: St. Joseph's Boys' School Chapel, Museum Road, Bangalore

Retreats at the Divine Retreat Centre, Somersby, Sydney

Divine Retreat Centre, Somersby to hold retreats throughout 2017. For bookings, email Fr Roni George, Director - drcsydney@gmail.com. Hurry, as admission is limited.

Date: January 2017 - December, 2017

Retreats in Divine Retreat Centre, UK

Divine Retreat Centre, Ramsgate UK, has announced several English and Malayalam language retreats to be led by Fr. George Panackal VC and Fr. Joseph Edattu VC. All are welcome.

Dates: Jan - Dec, 2017

Divine Mercy Mega Convention

Answer God's call and experience His burning love for you. A three-day convention to be led by Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC and team at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Bangalore. Please spread the word.

Dates: October 27, 28 & 29, 2017

Divine Retreat Schedules

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Inner healing retreats, growth retreats, couples' retreats and youth retreats in Malayalam, are led by Fr. Mathew Elavumkal, Fr. Mathew Naickomparambil and Fr. Binoy Chackanikunnel.

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Every week, retreats are held in five different regional languages of India, apart from in the local language - Malayalam. The retreats are led by Vincentian priests and supported by powerfully anointed laity of God.

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