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India: Survivor Priests of the 2008 Anti-Christian Attacks Recall Their Stories of Faith and Courage

On April 22, 2023, 500 Catholics, 60 priests, 25 nuns, and religious celebrated the golden and silver jubilees of five Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese priests at Konjamendi, Kandhamal, Odisha.

In his homily, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar John Barwa, SVD, said, “We praise and thank the Lord God almighty for anointing five priests to preach the good news to the whole world for the last 50 and 25 years.” 

“It is God who provided courage, strength, and energy to face the persecution and suffering in the time of anti-Christian violence in 2008 and made them witnesses of true Christian missionaries. They may continue to serve the Lord throughout their lives,” the prelate added.

The principal celebrant, Father Joseph Kalathil, a missionary priest from Kasaragod, said they "acknowledge the sacrifice of our parents, relatives, faithful, contribution of teachers, and seminary formators,” not to mention the “encouragement and support of bishops.” 

He stated that persecution of Christians and violent attacks on and vandalism of churches gave him the fortitude and courage to continue to uphold the faith.

Kalathil also said, “Persecution was a blessing in disguise for me and the Christians, which made us all become true witnesses to the whole world.”

In 2008, Kalathil and Christian community members accused of defamation filed a lawsuit against Hindu Jagran Samaj Chief Ashok Sahu for attempting to tarnish the Church's reputation and mislead the public.

They also demanded Rs—fifty crores (around USD 9 million) in damages for destroying the reputation of the Christian community. 

During a Pastoral Council meeting conducted at the Betikala Church, Sahu claimed there was a plot to eliminate the Swami and released two documents to support his claims.

According to the former Vicar-General and former Parish Priest of Saint Vincent Pro-Cathedral Parish, Bhubaneswar, the documents were “totally false and fabricated."

Father Kalathil also handled the cases of Father Bernard Digal, the former Treasurer of the Archdiocese who was brutally assaulted in the time of anti-Christian violence also in 2008, of Father Thomas Chellan, Director of Divya Jyoti (Divine Light) Pastoral Centre, Konjamendi, and Sister Meena Barwa, a member of the Handmaids of Mary, an indigenous congregation of Odisha, and a social worker at Divya Jyoti Pastoral Centre. 

Aside from Father Kalathil, Father Mathew Puthyadom, assigned to the Divya Jyoti Pastoral Center, Konjamendi, also had his own horror stories to share. 

He recalled how a violent mob prompted fundamentalists to burn and destroy churches, Christian institutions, and residences. 

Father Puthyadom said he could survive through the kindness of some Hindus who helped him escape to the jungle, where he stayed for days without food or water.

The priest expressed his sincere gratitude to God for His constant presence throughout his 50 years as a priest.

For Silver Jubilarian priests: Fathers Santosh Singh, Laxmikant Pradhan, and Pradeep Behera, God’s vocation and purpose in their lives were “more powerful than the wicked plan of the persecutor’s threat, mental agony, pain, and suffering in life.”

Meanwhile, the retired headmaster of St. Catherine’s Girls’ High School, Simanchal Digal, had praise and good words for the priest survivors.

“The sacrifices, selfless service of the priests, having concern for the poor, needy, and downtrodden, have established a society of equality, love, unity, and fraternity, spiritually, socially, and economically,” he said. 

In August 2008, Hindutva organizations allegedly incited widespread violence against Christians in the Kandhamal district of Orissa, India, following the murder of the Hindu cleric Lakshmanananda Saraswati.

An estimated 2,000 Christians were forced to abandon their faith due to the violence. 

However, most of the victims of the attacks were pressured into dropping their cases or retracting their testimony against those charged in court. Many who fled to escape the violence that day still dread returning home. 


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.