Catholic Priest Dies After Injury in Orissa Violence

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Father Bernard Digal, a native of Kandhamal District, died in Chennai

Father Bernard Digal, who was injured in late August when anti-Christian violence swept through the eastern state of Orissa, died last night, October 28, 2008, in Chennai. He is the first Roman Catholic priest killed by the violence.

Dr. Joseph D’souza, President of the All India Christian Council (aicc), said, “We are deeply saddened today and India’s Christians are united in their prayers for Father Bernard’s family. It is tragic that Father Bernard’s homeland and the place where he served, Kandhamal District, experienced similar anti-Christian attacks nine months before, but state authorities did not enact solutions to prevent more riots. Could his death have been prevented? This is the haunting question only God can answer.”

According to Indian Catholic News Service, he was attacked on August 24, 2008. During the attack, Father Bernard was brutally beaten and left in a field overnight. The next morning he was taken to a local hospital, then transferred to KalingaHospital in the state capital, Bhubaneswar. Soon he was taken to Mumbai for further treatment. He was recovering and released, but recently was admitted to a Chennai hospital. He was 47 years old. More details on the attack are at: http://www.indiancatholic.in/report.asp?nid=11630

Several Christian homes were burned on Oct. 14, 2008, but since then there have been no reports of fresh attacks. However, thousands of Christians in relief camps are unable to return home due to threats by extremists. Some Christians were forced to convert to Hinduism upon returning to their villages.

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Father Bernard, marked with a red cross, stands to the left of an archbishop in this undated photo.

At least six Protestant pastors were killed in the riots. Pastor Samuel Nayak (55), a Seventh Day Adventist, was murdered in his home in Bakingia, Orissa on August 25, 2008. Pastor Akbar Digal (41), a Pentecostal, was killed in his home by a mob in Mandakia, Orissa, on August 26, 2008. Four other pastors have died, but no details other than their names are available. At least 54 other Christians were killed in the violence.

Across Orissa, aicc Orissa state chapter leaders recorded 315 villages damaged, 4,640 Christian houses burnt, 53,000 Christians homeless, 10 priests/pastors/nuns seriously injured, 18,000 Christians injured, 2 nuns gang-raped, 149 churches destroyed, 13 Christian schools and colleges damaged.

The All India Christian Council (www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.