By Worthy News Asia Service
NEW DELHI, INDIA (Worthy News) -- Indian Christians and churches prepared to fast and pray this weekend for peace, a year after anti-Christian violence killed over 100 people in India's troubled state of Orissa and left tens of thousands displaced.
“The situation is still bleak for Christians in Orissa,” said Carl Moeller, the president of Open Doors USA, an international advocacy group supporting Christians persecuted for their faith.
“Many of our brothers and sisters remain homeless. The area simmers with tension and fear that major violence could resume at any time,” he added. “Christians are still being persecuted. They need your prayers.”
The violence broke out August 23, 2009, when non-Christian Maoists killed Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. Although Maoist rebels later publicly claimed responsibility for the assassination, Hindu militants accused Christians of the murder.
"EXCUSE TO ATTACK"
Indian church leaders have said the mobs were just using the murder as "an excuse to attack" the minority Christian population.
In a statement, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India appealed to all the Catholic dioceses in the country to “pray for peace and harmony and a spirit of reconciliation” by fasting Sunday, August 23.
On Monday, August 24, an inter-denominational meeting to pray for peace, healing and reconciliation was to be held at The Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi to mark “National Kandhamal Day.”
Christians believe it may take a long time for peace and reconciliation to become a reality in Orissa's Kandhamal area where the violence lasted for weeks in August and September 2008, killing more than 100 people and burning more than 4,500 houses, over 250 churches and 13 educational institutions, according to Christian estimates.
Earlier reports spoke of dozens killed in what was already the worst anti-Christian violence India has seen in recent years. Over 50,000 remain displaced, according to church estimates.
MORE THREATS REPORTED
Hindu groups have warned those who have returned from refugee camps for displaced Christians to withdraw the cases filed against them, said Sam Paul, spokesman for the All India Christian Council, a group representing churches and Christian groups, in published remarks.
“At some places they were threatened to convert to Hinduism,” Paul said. “At a few places, to maintain the peace, the local Christians had to deny their faith.”
Christians comprise just over two percent of India's mainly Hindu population of 1.2 billion people.
Hindu nationalist groups have expressed outrage over the spread of Christianity, especially among 'Dalits' seen as the 'lowest caste' in India's ancient system of Hinduism, according to local missionaries and church leaders.