A Catholic Archbishop in India's Orissa state has appealed to the worldwide church to pray this Christmas for victims of the anti-Christian violence that struck parts of India in 2007 and 2008.
Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar has issued a prayer for the season in which he asks for God's mercy upon the perpetrators of the attacks and comfort for the victims.
Churches were burned down and at least eight people killed when violence broke out in Orissa's Kandhamal district on Christmas Eve, 2007. Then in 2008, the murder of a radical Hindu leader in August triggered a wave of attacks on Christians and church buildings that lasted until Christmas and resulted in the deaths of 120 Christians. Around 50,000 Christians lost their homes in the attacks.
"Gracious Father, Lord of all the earth, we praise you for the gift of Jesus Christ, sent into the world to break down the dividing walls of hostility," said the Archbishop in his prayer.
"Have mercy upon those in Orissa who suffer for bearing your name. Give them the peace and the justice that they crave, and cause the walls of bitterness and hatred in Orissa to be torn down. Comfort those who have been bereaved, counsel those who have been traumatised, provide for those who have lost everything.
"Give them the grace to forgive, and confidence in your gracious favor. Do not let us forget them, our brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace and look forward to his coming again in glory."
As Christians in Orissa continue to seek justice in the courts, Christian Solidarity Worldwide recently expressed its concern over the growing number of suspects being acquitted or released on bail, and warned that witnesses were being intimidated.
More than one year after the attacks, some 4,000 Christians are still living in makeshift homes. They are too afraid to return home as Hindu militants continue to make threats against them.
CSW's Advocacy director, Tina Lambert, said, "Archbishop Cheenath's prayer reflects the depth of suffering and uncertainty that is prevalent in Orissa's Christian community, two years after the first outbreak of widespread anti-Christian violence."
CSW is urging Christians in the United Kingdom to lobby their MEPs on behalf of Christians in Orissa and stand in solidarity with them by sending cards and letters of encouragement.
"As part of our Inclusive India campaign, we call on Christians throughout the world to heed the Archbishop's call to prayer during Advent and on Christmas Day," said Lambert.
"We also urge a continued international focus on this issue until the perpetrators and inciters of violence are brought to justice and the victims fully compensated."