Hate in India, our front yard

By: By Thomas J. Dermody

It was a tale of endured torture told by someone grateful to be alive. The victim recalled how at one point the captors poured kerosene on his head and threatened to strike a match. He and a companion were repeatedly kicked, beaten with iron rods and dragged through the streets of the village.

The story of presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, former prisoner of war in Vietnam, as told at last week’s Republican National Convention?

No, this is the story of Father Thomas Chellen, a Catholic priest in India and one of many recent victims of violence against Christians in that country’s state of Orissa.

On Aug. 24, a Hindu mob of 500 people — angered by the murder of one of their leaders and blaming all Christians — broke into Father Chellen’s pastoral center. He escaped through the backyard with another priest and nun and watched from a distance as the entire complex, built just seven years ago, was burned. The trio fled to the jungles but were subsequently discovered and captured. The nun was stripped and raped. In addition to enduring severe beatings, Father Chellen — who recounted the attack to Catholic News Service from a hospital bed — was forced to say vulgar words.

Asked how they coped with the trauma, Father Chellen said “we resisted as much as we could. This is like being tortured for Christ.”

How major of a story is this in India? In reaction, more than 40,000 Christian educational institutions throughout the nation closed Aug. 29 in protest.

It’s difficult for us in the United States, where we are blessed with religious freedom and tolerance, to imagine such scenes. But isn’t hate a lot like that kerosene poured on Father Chellen’s head? It can take just one spark to ignite and enflame.

And there are haters among us.

This weekend each yard in my quiet neighborhood was littered overnight with plastic bags weighed down by a sand-like substance and containing a note with a vile racist rant against African-Americans. The note was purportedly from a group called the National Socialist Workers. It was a rare taste of hate, and it was sickening.

As we prayerfully remember the troubled Christians of India, let’s be thankful for our freedoms and security. But also be on guard against hate in our own lives by making sure we are enkindled only by the fire of the Holy Spirit’s love. — Thomas J. Dermody

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