"A Crime Against Humanity"
[B]etter known as Swami Astheya (he who is without greed), Fr Samuel Francis was found dead this morning in the chapel of his ashram in the village of Chota Rampur. His hands were tied behind his back, his mouth gagged (with cloth) and injuries on his forehead. The 50-ear-old clergyman dressed like an Indian Sanyasin (Hindu monks who lead an ascetic life) and lived in an ashram (monastery) where he taught yoga and meditation....Since last month's escalation of Hindu extremists' reported intent to "cleanse" Orissa of its Christian population, the death toll has risen to 37 (including two Protestant pastors), "more than 4,000 houses have been burned, and close to 50,000 faithful have fled to camps or sought refuge in the forests."
How and why he was murdered is not yet clear, but police will not exclude the possibility that it might have been a robbery gone badly wrong. The ashram was in fact ransacked and a woman suffering from psychological problems was also found dead in the ashram’s warehouse.
Fr Davis Varayilan, professor at Samanvayan Theological College, said he knew the slain priest and had nothing but words of praise for his generosity, good heart and intelligence.
“This is a great tragedy for the Church in India,” he said. “We used to send our seminarians for an experience to his Ashram, and in the early 1980s he was in charge of the youth in Meerut Diocese.”
His ashram had become a beacon for inter-faith dialogue and harmony among people.
“He was much loved and respected by all: Hindus, inter-faith harmony and unity, He was a holy person and his spirituality was well respected by all Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, the poor and the marginalised.”
Fr Francis embodied the India’s spirit, best exemplified by the Sanyasi lifestyle which calls for no meat and a rigid vegetarian diet.
“Killing so brutally such a man who worked for the betterment of society is a crime against humanity,” said Father Davis.
In recent remarks urging solidarity with the suffering Asian church, the president of the Italian bishops Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa also cited the "Calvary to which Christianity in Iraq has been subjected for too long." Calling them "the most recent links in a chain of violence underway for more than four years," the CEI head noted that two more Chaldean Catholics were killed there in recent days.
By most estimates, Iraq's Christian community has been halved since the US occupation there began in 2003.
Returning to Orissa, Irish Divine Word Fr Vincent Twomey -- an alum of a certain Professor Ratzinger -- took to Eire's Times to note the world's silence amid the "war on Catholic India":
While attacks on Christians have taken place in various parts of India over the past 10 years, Orissa state on the east coast of India (almost twice the size of Ireland), has, in the last few weeks, been the scene of what appears to be a concerted plan to rid the entire state of Christians, mostly Catholic.-30-
This, at least, is what Raphael Cheeneth SVD, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa, claims in a recent letter to his fellow Divine Word Missionaries. He is a man not given to exaggeration - and his facts are confirmed by the Times of India.
The recent attacks began on the night of August 23rd, 2008, with the murder of Swami Laxmananananda Saraswati, leader of VHP. According to the Times of India , police suspect Maoist rebels killed Saraswati but "some Hindu groups" blamed Christians for the murder and went on the rampage.
According to the archbishop, the murder provided Sangh Parivar with an excuse to achieve their aim of cleansing Orissa of all Christians. Already in December 2007, Christians there were subject to violent attacks. No one was punished, and no compensation was made, giving the perpetrators the impression that they could attack with impunity.
Archbishop Cheenath states: "The frightening memories of attacks in December 2007 are still on the minds of priests, religious women and people. So, when even the rumours of attacks were in the air, they hid themselves in the neighbouring forests or managed to get shelter in a helpful (Hindu) family . . . The director of our Pastoral Centre at Konjamonde and a sister working with him had taken shelter in a family; but they were pulled out . . ., beaten up and paraded in front of 10 policemen . . ."
Within four days, 101 churches, five convents, five presbyteries, seven hostels, two dispensaries, 126 shops and 58 vehicles of various kinds were destroyed. The primary focus of the attacks was directed against priests, religious and lay leaders.
From August 24th to 31st some 27 people were killed (including one or two Hindus), six priests were hospitalised with serious injuries (one is semi-conscious), one woman was burned to death, two priests were kidnapped, 4,300 houses were demolished in 160 villages.
"The Central Government," writes Archbishop Cheenath, "has sent the Rapid Action Force and two helicopters . . . The force has come. Despite their presence, the destruction is taking place in remote villages and thick forests." The difficulties faced by the police, when they happen to intervene to protect Christians, were dramatically illustrated on Monday of last week (September 15th) when, according to the Times of India , fresh violence broke out in Orissa's troubled Kandhamal district; a policeman was killed as an armed mob of about 500 torched a police station and set fire to several vehicles....
[V]iolence against Christians has [also] increased in other parts of India, such as Mangalore, when, also on September 15th last, 15 churches were destroyed.