Vatican approves beatification process for Martyrs of Kandhamal anti-Christian violence

(Photo: Unsplash/Gyan Shahane)

In a development that has been welcomed by the Christian community of India and particularly the state of Odisha, the Vatican has granted approval to initiate the beatification process for 35 Christians who were martyred for their faith during the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal, Odisha.

Violence that started in Kandhamal district in the month of August 2008, spread to 14 other districts and was probably the worst case of anti-Christian violence in India till that time. It was orchestrated by right-wing Hindu nationalists and the violence that lasted for over 3 months had claimed over 100 lives and left thousands homeless forcing them to take shelter in the jungles for days. Over 6,000 homes were demolished or destroyed as well as over 300 Churches and more than 50,000 people were internally displaced.

In a recent message to Archbishop John Barwa of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, the Vatican granted permission to initiate the process of canonization for one of the victims who lost their lives in the attacks, along with 34 of his companions.

The process of canonization is associated with Kanteswar Digal, a Catholic catechist who fell victim to a mob attack during the 2008 violence that was fuelled by rumours that Christians were responsible for the death of a local Hindu swami (holy man). Subsequent investigations revealed that Maoist groups were behind the assassination, a fact later acknowledged and claimed by the Maoists.

On October 25, Archbishop Barwa shared with the media that he received a letter dated October 18 from the papal ambassador in India, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli. The letter informed him that the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints has given approval and a 'no objection' to commence the beatification process for the Servant of God Kanteeswar Digal and his 34 companions, known as the "martyrs of Kandhamal."

It was Barwa who took the initiative to appoint a priest, Purushottam Nayak, six years ago to investigate and research, and had asked him to prepare a dossier on the martyrs. This crucial step is a prerequisite before formally launching a sainthood cause at the diocesan level.

Nayak and a team of seven priests were assigned the challenging task of compiling information for the sainthood cause. This included creating a list of martyrs, detailed biographies, reports on virtues and sanctity, records of favours granted through intercessions, identification of obstacles, a collection of published writings, and a list of witnesses. The difficulty arose from the fact that many victims belonged to "Tribal" or "Dalit" backgrounds, where illiteracy made retrieving the necessary documentation a significant hurdle.

Archbishop Barwa's suggestion received approval and endorsement from the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India during its plenary assembly held from January 24-30 in Bengaluru. The Dicastery for the Cause of Saints, after careful consideration and prayerful discernment, granted the Nihil Obstat after Barwa wrote to them on May 31 requesting the Vatican to consider beatification for the 35.

This clearance indicates no objection to initiating the beatification process for Kanteshwar Digal and Companions. The Nihil Obstat from the Dicastery for the Cause of Saints in Rome confirms that there are no doctrinal or moral impediments to investigating the life, virtues, and sanctity of the Servant of God Kanteshwar Digal and Companions.

Kantheswar Digal, the face of the sainthood cause, was a lay village catechist murdered by right-wing Hindu nationalists on September 25, 2008. His home was attacked, and he was tortured to renounce his Christian faith before being strangled and thrown into a nearby river. His family could only retrieve his body after the violence subsided.

This development has been welcomed by Christians and all people associated with the cause of justice to the victims of Kandhamal for a decade and a half.

Speaking to Matters India, Rajendra Digal, the son of Kantheswar Digal, expressed gratitude to the Vatican for granting permission to initiate the sainthood process for his father and others. “It is a proud moment for me that my father died for the faith in Christ. He is the true witness to the whole world of firm faith in God,” he was quoted by Matters India.

Dr. John Dayal, the veteran human rights activist known for championing justice for victims of anti-Christian violence, shared his delight with Matters India. He emphasised that the recent development has brought “great joy” to those who have had the privilege of standing alongside the brave people of Kandhamal since Christmas Eve of 2007.

“...Each of the murdered men women and children, and the survivors have taught us deep and lasting lessons in faith. Kandhamal itself has become a beacon, a flame visible from afar, for the community spread so thin in so many vulnerable areas of our land. It provides solace to the unending chain of victims of religious fundamentalism and murderous hate that lights anew by some evil hand every time we think has been defeated and is dying out,” he said.

Out of the 35 martyrs, 24 are men and 11 are women. They are as follows:

1. Father Bernard Digal

2. Juboraj Digal

3. Sibino Pradhan

4. Raghapati Digal

5. Kantheswar digal

6. Bikram Nayak

7. Rajesh Digal

8. Trinath Digal

9. Parikhita Nayak

10. Suchitra Digal

11. Lensa Digal

12. Subedana Nayak

13. Mayagini digal

14. Jhunima Parichha

15. Bastina Montry

16. Priya Darshoni Nayak

17. Dustina Parichha

18. Sirel Parichha

19. Bhumika digal

20. Tepan Nayak

21. Badani Digal

22. Digamber Digal

23. Lalita Digal

24. Augustine Digal

25. Tileswar Paltasingh

26. Kundan Montry

27. Hemant Digal

28. Bibhisana Digal

29. Reboti Parichha

30. Melanio Digal

31. Krushna Nayak

32. Jamadei Pradhan

33. Baliarsingh Digal

34. Gonda Digal

35. Mary Pani