INDIA: Archbishop of Canterbury expresses solidarity with persecuted Christians

November 14, 2008

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has written to the moderators of the Church of North India and the Church of South India to express his solidarity with minority Christians who for more than three months have endured attacks by Hindu extremists in the Orissa district of eastern India.

The full text of Williams' letter follows.

My dear brothers,

Greetings in the name of Our Lord. I was delighted to receive news of the election of Rt Revd Purely Lyngdoh as Moderator of the Church of North India at your Synod last month and look forward to welcoming you at the forthcoming Meeting of Primates and Moderators. Conscious of the statement issued by the Synod, I write now to assure you of my prayers and deep concern for our brothers and sisters in Orissa and elsewhere in India in the light of the present harsh circumstances. The depth and extent of the sufferings of so many people has been a source of profound sorrow and distress here and around the world.

Back in September I made a statement about the murder of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati, and consequent brutal attacks on Christian churches and villages in Orissa. When I did so it was in the context of a period of violence, particularly against Christians, earlier in the year and I expressed my hope that people of faith around the world would make known their horror at this violence, their support for the rebuilding of lives and the churches, orphanages and schools destroyed, and for work towards future reconciliation. Rather than improve the situation in Orissa seems to have deteriorated and, indeed, to have spread to several other states, such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. I understand that more than 50 Christians have been killed, and many tens of thousands have become refugees. The scale of the violence inflicted on innocent victims, most of whom are amongst the poorest of society, is truly shocking.

We can, justifiably, admire the achievements of the Indian nation, of which you and your people form an integral part, in terms of its status as not only the world's largest democracy but also a model for rich religious diversity, and respect between most of the major faiths of the world. Yet, your Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has condemned what is happening as a "national shame" and asserted that "Christianity is part of our national heritage". I too feel that if a small minority community (less than 3% of the population) continue as the target of attacks -- attacks which often seem to be organised -- then India will have lost its place as an international beacon. It is essential that the state and national authorities ensure the protection of the right, enshrined in article 25 of the Constitution, to "freedom of conscience, and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion".

In this country we seek to maintain positive and respectful relationships for the good of society with Hindu communities and organisations who are a minority here. I enclose a copy of my message to Hindu communities on the occasion of Diwali from which you will see that I express my hope that light will prevail over dark and good over evil. Around the world we have seen the dreadful effect of violence that has been motivated by ambitions for political power. I am saddened by the spectre of Hinduism being abused by those with such motives and know there are Hindu leaders in India who have sought to distance their religious tradition from the current outbreak of violence.

The demands of our Faith lead us to insist that ambitions for political power and economic progress cannot be at the expense of harmony between citizens, and commitment to the poor and minorities, of whatever background or creed. In solidarity with you, and alongside so many of your sisters and brothers in the Anglican Communion, I shall continue to call for reconciliation where there has been division and hurt and for work towards peace and the rejection of all resort to violence. For this to happen it seems vital that central and state governments bring the situation under control and initiate judicial processes, which will distinguish truth from rumour and enable appropriate justice to be brought to those who have committed crimes of violence or intimidation. In Orissa Christian villagers need rapidly be given the security to return to their villages and to worship in peace. Inappropriate pressure to reconvert is as unacceptable as inappropriate pressure to convert.

I should be grateful if you would share this message of prayer and solidarity with your fellow bishops and appropriate local leaders in the relevant states. I stand ready to act in partnership with you and them to bring an end to these atrocious events should welcome your advice on what would be most positive in the present circumstances.

Yours ever in Christ,

+Rowan Cantuar