Home Village Burial Denied to Slain Priest

Fr Bernard Digal, procurator of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese who survived a murderous attack on him by Hindu bigots succumbed to his injuries on the evening of October 28 at St. Thomas Hospital in Chennai. Though the initial plan was to bury him
at Raikia in Kandhamal – hi

s native place, under pressure from Orissa police and government, the diocese is compelled to bury him in Bhubaneswar, 31 October.

I believe Fr Bernard had a right to be buried in his native village.

Here is a moving account by journalist Anto Akkara reporting for Catholic News Service on what happened to Fr Bernard:

Mumbai (CNS) 9 Sept – The Holy Spirit Hospital in Mumbai witnessed emotional scenes when archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Bhubaneswar visited his seriously injured priests who had been flown to the Catholic hospital from troubled Orissa state.

Father Bernard Digal, Bhubaneswar archdiocesan procurator, broke into tears and sobbing as archbishop Cheenath met him for the first time on Sep 6 afternoon.

Archbishop Cheenath reached Mumbai taking a break from his camping in New Delhi meeting with federal government heads including Indian Prime Minister and President and shuttling to the supreme court demanding security to the hounded Christians in Orissa.

Fr Digal had been severely thrashed by Hindu fundamentalists and left to die in Kandhamal jungles on August 26 night before he was moved by local people and police to government hospital and airlifted by anguished church workers to the Mumbai hospital along with two other seriously priests.

After overcoming his initial outbreak of emotions, the archdiocesan procurator elaborated to archbishop Cheenath how he was tortured by the Hindu bigots who were on the prowl looking for church targets following the murder of their leader Swami Lakshamanananda Saraswati who had been shot dead at his centre on August 23 night.

The orchestrated anti-Christian violence since then has left two dozen Christians dead, 4200 Christian houses burnt and dozens of churches and Christian institutions ransacked or torched, and over 50 000 Christians – half of the 100 000 Christians in Kandhamal district with half a million people – fleeing their homes.

“I was sleeping inside a burnt (Protestant) church thinking nobody would come there when we lost my way. Then, they (Hindu mob) came and started beating me up,” recounted Father Digal who is unable to move as both his legs have severe fractures.
With all his strength, Fr Digal pushed the assailants off and ran for life to through the bushes in pitched darkness. But, after few hundred metres, the Hindu bigots managed to catch him.

They hit on his head with iron bar leaving him semi-conscious at the Dudurkagaon village.

“I lost all pain and saw them beating me all round and stripping me off my clothes,” said the priest. After some time, the left the profusely bleeding priest saying, “he is going to die and let us go.”

With his legs broken, Fr Digal remained in the jungle tract motionless for the while night of August 26 with jackals howling around him.

“I was so thirsty that I had to drink my own urine with great difficulty,” said the priest who heard some movement around and cried for help after the day break.
An old lady came in and finding him naked and bleeding, she fled.

Much later, a passing boy heard his cries for help and informed local villagers who carried him to some distance called the police to rush him to nearby government hospital before reaching him to Orissa capital Bhubaneswar.

Fr Digal had halted for the night with his driver at the ‘Seva Sadan’ (house of service) at Sankarakhol – 240 kms from Bhubaneswar – where 73-year old Father Cheralamkunnel Alexander was managing the parish when the news of the murder of Saraswati came in.

He decided to stay on with the elderly priest as the funeral procession of the slain swami was carried across Kandhamal for two days with huge motorcade and Christians became apprehensive.

As the huge procession passed the church centre on August 25 afternoon, local Catholics reported that the Hindu fundamentalists wanted to burn the church and the nearby convent as the procession passed but they decided to torch these targets after the funeral.

“First they (Hindu mob) burnt the convent just after the nuns left. Before they reached our place, we also fled,” said Fr Digal.

The mob did not even spare the two dogs at the centre and traced his van parked in a remote place and burnt it while the priests and church workers fled to jungles.
“Father Alexander was finding it difficult to trek to the jungles and so, I thought of getting a (motor) bike to take him out of Kandhamal,” recalled Fr Digal.

Since he was very familiar with the area, Fr Digal along with driver and a local youth decided to walk 15 kms to Padhampada to the nearest house of a priest where there was a bike.

“From a distance, we could see the house was on fire and so, we moved to another Christian village,” Fr Digal said.

With the all the houses burnt down in the village, Fr Digal and his companions moved on.

Since it was dark and they could not proceed further, they decided to halt at the burnt Protestant church at Dudurkagaon presuming that nobody would bother to come to the burnt church in the night.

“I had dozed off when they came and my companions called me and started running. I could not run fast and fell into their hands,” recounted the 45-year old priest hailing Kandhamal jungles.

When Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai visited him at the hospital bed and consoled him, Fr Digal told the Cardinal “I am lucky and ok now” despite both his legs fractured.

“But, I am worried about the people there (in Kandhamal),” he added.

While he was at the government hospital in Phulbani – headquarters of Kandhamal district, Fr Digal said there was a seriously injured boy and his mother on the beds near him while the dead body of the husband was kept outside for post mortem.

“The suffering of our people is hurting me more than my own pain,” Fr Digal told Catholic News Service. END

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