Catholics in the eastern Indian state of Odisha are celebrating the ordination of a priest who was a victim of India’s worst anti-Christian violence.
Father Vikash Nayak, 29, who hails from Tiangia village in Kandhamal district, was ordained on Nov. 6 by Archbishop Emeritus William D’Souza of Patna, the apostolic administrator of Buxar Diocese in the neighboring state of Bihar.
He visited his village on Nov. 13 and concelebrated his first Eucharist with local people amid much joy and happiness.
In 2008, Father Nayak’s village witnessed seven casualties including a Catholic priest, Father Bernard Digal, during violence that followed the murder of Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who was shot dead by Maoist rebels on Aug. 23, the day Janmashtami or the birth of Lord Krishna was being celebrated.
Local Christians including a 13-year-old boy were cornered by irate Hindu mobs, beaten, and abandoned at the police station. Then a leader of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Assembly of Hindus, made public their names and declared them accused in the killing of the Hindu leader.
The murder was declared as a “Christian conspiracy” and violence was unleashed against the minority community. The killings and burning continued for seven weeks, claiming the lives of around 100 people and rendering 56,000 injured and homeless. More than 6,000 houses and 300 churches were destroyed.
Father Dibakar Parichha, a Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese official, told UCA News that victims of the Kandhamal riots won admiration even after losing everything, including near and dear ones, because they kept their faith alive and were able to give another priest to the Church.
“Father Nayak is the ninth priest from his village that comes under Our Lady of Charity Parish of Raikia, Kandhamal, in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar. One more priest will be ordained in a month or two from Tiangia village,” he said.
Father Mrityunjay of Tiangia village told UCA News that they were proud of Father Nayak. “Even after going through such a rough phase in his life, he remained firm in his belief in Jesus Christ,” he said.
Father Nayak could not be contacted due to his busy travel schedule.
He was born on April 7, 1992, as the youngest of three siblings of Gokul and Christina Nayak and did his initial education in his village until the 10th grade, which he passed at the time violence broke out in 2008.
He pursued further studies at Jiban Jyoti College, Raikia, and in 2010 joined Mashih Gurukul Seminary in Varanasi in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. He studied philosophy at St. Charles Seminary, Nagpur, in 2016 and theology at Vidya Jyoti, Delhi, in 2021.