People urged to join call for justice for persecuted Christians in India

· Concern that authorities are failing to prevent violence and unwilling to protect Christians.

People killed for their faith in Orissa and victims still suffering at the hands of religious extremists were remembered in prayer at the Synod of the Church of North India (CNI), in Punjab. Churches are not being permitted to contribute to the relief effort, but people are being urged to pray and join in the call for justice.

The 350 Synod members were visibly moved as they listened to two Christians from Orissa tell of their experiences in one of the 311 villages that have suffered violent attacks from religious extremists.

One victim told how his congregation had been attacked during a service and people were forced to flee into the forest. He had been attacked with an axe and left for dead among the trees. To this day he wonders how or why God saved his life. Although he has had to sell almost all he owned to pay for the medical treatment, he said; 'I praise God for his mercy. My faith is now stronger than before.'

Concern was expressed at the way the police and authorities are failing to intervene to prevent violence, unwilling to protect Christians and their homes, and being partial in their upholding of law and order.

Christine Elliott, Methodist Secretary for External Relationships has written to the Indian Prime Minister, asking him to assure the British Methodist Church that the religious rights of all Indians will be protected and that the police and the courts will do all they can to guarantee the personal safety of individuals, families and communities.

The CNI General Secretary, Revd Enos Das Pradhan, expressed gratitude for statements of support from Partner Churches - including the British Methodist Church - and noted that the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, had been forced to acknowledge the communal violence against individuals because of their faith as 'a national shame'.

'The immediate need is for emergency relief for those who are homeless or hiding in the forests and to bring an end to violence and threats', said Revd Das Pradhan, adding, 'Religious tolerance has been the basic tenet and hallmark of India's ancient civilization and history. We condemn all religious violence.'

After discussion with CNI Synod Officers, Partnership Coordinator with responsibility for India Steve Pearce said; 'Although no Church is allowed to be part of the current relief effort, I know British Methodists will be keen to help the affected Christian communities rebuild their lives and we will launch an appeal when the time is right. Meanwhile, I encourage everyone to pray for peace and to add their voice to the call for justice by writing to the Prime Minister of India and the High Commissioner in London.'

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