For survivors of one the early 21st century’s worst spasms of anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal in eastern India in 2008, the nine Christmases they’ve marked since have taken on a special meaning, as a reminder of the origins of the faith for which they suffered. Arguably no one has reflected more deeply on that connection than Sr Meena Barwa, the niece of Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, who was raped amid the violence and then paraded naked in the village by her attackers, in a final act of humiliation. Overall, the carnage in Kandhamal left at least 100 people dead, thousands injured, hundreds of churches and other Christian sites destroyed, and an estimated 50,000 people taking refuge in a nearby forest for weeks, where more died of snakebite, thirst and hunger.
Barwa said she finds herself thinking and praying over what happened to her in a special way during the Christmas season. “After the incident, many times I celebrated Christmas alone with baby Jesus, and those moments that I spent with my master [have been] the best moments of my life I’ve been experiencing in exile ever since the incident,” she said, in a Christmas letter written for Crux.