Seminaries and religious formation houses in Orissa are encouraging their students to get involved in inter-religious dialogue and people’s movements.
Father Joseph Topno, the eastern Indian provincial of the Society of the Divine Word, says those training future priests and nuns in the eastern Indian state were introspective after two rounds of anti-Christian violence.
The attacks, the worst anti-Christian violence in India, occurred during the Christmas season in 2007 and in August 2008, during which 95 people died and 6,000 were displaced. About 7,000 houses and 350 churches were destroyed.
Father Topno told ucanews.com that the attacks shocked the entire Church. After recovering from the violence, his congregation asked its formation houses to maintain closer ties with people in the outside world.
One of the earlier drawbacks was that the formation seldom allowed students to mingle with people, especially from other religions, he said.
The provincial said the violence triggered debates over the preparedness of priests and nuns to lead the community during crises.
During the Orissa violence, Church people could not contact their people for months.
“In the aftermath of the attacks, the Church realized the need to get closer to its flock,” the priest added.
Now Father Topno’s congregation encourages its students to live with their neighbors, especially during crises and conflicts. “Priests and sisters ought to be at the disposal of the community,” he said.
The province is based at Jharsugua, a tribal-dominated region in Orissa.
Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur says the Orissa violence was a wake-up call for the Church, especially its leaders and those in formation.
Until the violence, inter-religious dialogue and communal harmony were mere subjects for teaching but now they have become part of seminary formation, he said.
“Our seminarians are not well trained in conflict management or reaching out to other faiths,” the prelate told ucanews.com.
“Our future and security is our multi-cultural communities.”
Father Niranjan Sualsingh, who teaches in Khristo Jyoti theologate, Sambalpur, said persecution became a reality as “all of us were affected” during the Orissa violence.
Khristo Jyoti rector Father Mathew Poovanthara said people living around the seminary, mostly Hindus, stood by the Church institution during the violence.
The violence has prompted the seminary to conduct their training in the local context, he said.
Sister Leena Jacob, novice director of the St. Joseph’s Sister of Annecy, says the persecution awakened “our faith” and prepared “us to face the reality.”