THE Vatican has greenlighted the start of a process towards potential sainthood for 35 Indians massacred in 2008 during some of the worst anti-Christian violence in decades, India’s Catholic bishops have said.
After the murder of a Hindu priest in 2008, revenge attacks on the Christian community saw mobs target dozens of churches, prayer halls and Catholic-run schools and homes in the state of Odisha, forcing nearly 50,000 people to flee.
Among those killed was a group the church calls the “Kandhamal martyrs”, made up of 24 men and 11 women.
The move to honour the group was proposed by John Barwa, an archbishop from Odisha, and India’s bishops voted in January “to initiate the beatification process of the Kandhamal martyrs”, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) said in a statement on Tuesday (24).
Under Church law, if martyrdom is established then beatification – the step before canonisation — moves ahead more quickly.
But there must be proof of a miracle for them to progress and become saints.
The bishops said they had received an approval letter this week from Rome to start the process of “investigating the life, virtues and sanctity” of the group.
“The Vatican has approved the process to begin the cause for the canonisation of Kanteshwar Digal and his companions, who were martyred for their faith”, the CCBI said.
The move to honour the 35 victims of the violence comes as Indian prime minister Narendra Modi readies for national elections next year.
Since Modi took office in 2014, India has seen numerous outbreaks of violence between majority Hindus and its 200-million-strong Muslim minority.
India has a 1.4 billion population, and according to the last census more than two per cent are Christians.
Critics accuse Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party of wanting to turn officially secular India into a Hindu nation, something he denies.