An Indian cardinal is seeking the canonisation of nearly a hundred Catholics slaughtered in mob violence in 2008.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the most senior Catholic cleric in the sub-continent, said he would personally ask Pope Francis to start to process to canonise the “martyrs of Kandhamal” in the eastern Odisha province.
He has ordered Church authorities to collect evidence of atrocities against Christians who refused to abjure their faith at the point of death.
The martyrs include more than 90 Catholics butchered by Hindu nationalists during a seven-week pogrom against the Christian minority.
Non-Catholic Christians also died in witness to their faith but will not be included among any future saints canonised by the Pope.
They include Parikhit Nayak, a Dalit Christian “Protestant” convert from Hinduism who was tortured to death in front of his wife, Kanak.
Hindus who had previously been his friends and neighbours burned him with acid, castrated him and finally disembowelled him, with some of them wearing his intestines around their necks as garlands.
Victims also include Rajesh Digal, a Pentecostal minister who was ordered by a Hindu mob to renounce his faith.
When he refused, he was beaten severely and was buried up to his neck for two days, with his tormentors urinating in his mouth as he begged for water. The mob eventually battered him to death with clubs, sticks and axes.
Rajni Majh, an orphan girl in the care of a Catholic priest, was raped by members of a mob before she was tied up and burned alive.
Cardinal Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay and the leader of the Catholic Church in India, said he has personally asked the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Sainthood to start investigating the martyrdoms.
“The Church is sensitive to modern-day martyrs,” the cardinal told Fides, a Vatican-based news agency.
“The roles of the witnesses of the martyrs are quite important. It is a tedious work and needs proper and timely documentation.”
Cardinal Gracias added: “I am willing to speak personally about Kandhamal violence and its martyrs to Pope Francis.”
The cardinal has meanwhile instructed Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack Bhubaneswar, whose niece was raped in the violence, to initiate the sainthood process at the local level in preparation for its formal opening.
Relations are usually peaceful between Christians, who make up 2.5 per cent of the country’s 1.1 billion people, and Hindus who account for more than 80 per cent.
However, in the last decade instances of violence in India have multiplied dramatically, with hard-line Hindu groups claiming missionaries are persuading lower caste Indians to convert to Christianity.
The outbreak of anti-Christian violence in 2008 followed the killing of a radical Hindu leader in August 2008 by Maoist rebels.
Even though Communists claimed responsibility for the assassination, Hindu groups blamed Christians instead.
The violence also displaced some 56,000 people, forcing many of them to hide in forests where some were killed by snakebites, and destroyed an estimated 6,500 Christian houses and 395 churches.
Last month, Pope Francis gave a boost to the Indian Catholic Church when he agreed to canonise Mother Teresa of Calcutta.