Monday, September 08, 2008

God was with him

In recent days, we have heard stories of the terrible killings that have taken place in Orissa in India, in which Hindu extremists have murdered both Christians and some Hindus, often with horrific brutality.

Below is a first-hand account, forwarded to me by e-mail, of one of the latest of these attacks, when a Divine Word Missionary priest was almost killed. Whilst indicating some of the suffering that some people are facing at this moment, I think it also shows that God is there in the midst of all that is happening. (I have done some correcting of the English, but otherwise, the account is unchanged.)

Let us join Pope Benedict and the Bishops’ conference of India in praying for a cessation of violence.

God bless,
Sr Janet

Dear Friends
I met Fr. Edward Sequeira (my classmate all through the seminary life) this morning and was consoled to see him in good spirits. Earlier when people used to ask him “how are you?” he used to say jokingly, “I am well in the hell”. But now when the same question is asked to him he says, “I am safe in the hands of God”. He shared with me personally the events that took place on 25th August. What I want to share with you in this mail is his spiritual experience during that time.

It was one o’clock in the afternoon. He came back to his residence to have lunch, after being out on the construction site. He was about to take the first gulp of food when some people came to see him, and asked him, “Who is the priest here”? Fr. Edward thought they must have come for some help, for instance for somebody who was sick and needed to be taken to the hospital. So he said, “I am the one”.

When he looked outside he saw there were about 20 people with sticks, iron bars, shovels, and spades. He realized what was going to happen. So he tried to close the door. But their sticks and iron bars came in between. He could not close the door and bolt it. Whilst this was happening, one of the men shouted, “You twenty people cannot manage one?”

They managed to pull Fr. Edward out and then started beating him all over. With all the instruments they had, they beat him on the back of the head, on the backs of his shoulders and on his hands, fracturing both of his shoulders, his right hand and the back of his skull.

From the front, they punched him all over, including where it hurts most. They slapped him on the face. This went on for 45 minutes and then Fr. Edward collapsed.

Meanwhile others had entered and looted the house. They took away cash, and whatever was useful to them. They piled together everything in the office and in the bed room, including clothes, in order to burn them, spreading chemicals on the floor so that the whole place would catch fire easily. These chemicals made the floor very slippery. They then set the place on fire and came out. The house was full of smoke.

They held Fr. Edward and pushed him inside the house and bolted the door from outside.

Remember Fr. Edward has lost his strength and had collapsed. But at this moment when he was alone inside the burning house he realized he was not alone. There was Jesus with him. He experienced tremendous strength at this moment. He experienced Jesus not as a separate entity from him, but “He in me and I in him”. He experienced Jesus suffering in him.

The floor was slippery, and he could not see anything because the house was full of smoke. The fire had not yet spread to where he was. He held on to the wall and windows on the wall and found his way to the bathroom.

He saw wild flames of fire in his bedroom and in his office. He collected half a bucket of water and went and threw it in his bedroom and the fire went off.

Was this a MIRACLE?

He filled another half bucket of water and threw it in the office and the same result. The fire in the office was put out.

He had a deep sense that God was with him.

He went back to the bathroom and locked himself inside, but all the rooms were filled with smoke and breathing was difficult.

Somehow he managed to remain in the bathroom. The people who attacked him were outside. They wanted to know what had happened to him. They tried to break the window, and managed to make a hole in the glass. Their job became difficult as smoke was gushing out through the hole, but somehow they managed to break open part of the window. They tried to see inside. Fr. Edward was still in a corner. They could not see him and concluded that he was dead, but, wanting to make sure, they went to the roof and broke through to a different room.

Meanwhile Rajani Majhi, 19 years of age, a student and a helper at the orphanage (for the children of the leprosy patients) came to the scene. Fr. Edward could only hear the cry of Rajani, “Father, they are going to burn me”. Then he lost consciousness.

Rajani was burnt alive. Fr. Edward came to know about it only two days later. Rajani was a Hindu girl, very committed and hard working. She was an all-rounder in the orphanage. In the morning she used to go to college, come back around 1.30 p.m. and then help out in the orphanage.

Fr. Edward believes that it is because of the efforts of Dr. Mary Kutty, H.M., and Dr. Rajnesh Samal, a Baptist missionary, he is saved otherwise he would have been suffocated to death. When these two heard the news of what had happened to Fr. Edward they mobilized help though some influential people. The ambulance, fire brigade and police arrived at around 5.30p.m. and Fr. Edward was admitted in the Sub-divisional Hospital at Padampur. His brother, Commodore Valentine Sequeira joined in to help at this stage. From there he was shifted to Burla Medical College, Sambalpur. He says, the Doctors there were extremely good to him.

Fr. Edward is now recuperating in a hospital in Mumbai and is given good treatment and care.

When people come and tell him, “we are praying for you”, he says, “Do not pray for me, I am in the safe hands of God, you go and work for the rights of the minorities”. Fr. Edward believes that God has saved him miraculously and has a purpose for him.Jesus is alive.

Yours in Christ
Fr. Edwin Vas SVD.