Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Fr Thomas Chirattavayalil, a priest in Satna diocese, was attacked by a group of armed and masked men in the wee hours of 16 December. He works among Tribals in Odagady, a remote mission station in Madhya Pradesh. “I have forgiven my attackers,” Fr Thomas told AsiaNews, "and I pray for them, that the birth of our Lord Jesus may bring hope and peace and light to their hearts, mind and lives. May the beatings I received in this season of Advent, bring graces, blessings and life and fruits to the Mission of the Church in Satna, Madhya Pradesh and India. ”
When the attack began, the priest’s assailants told him not to shout, but his driver, cook and animator heard the commotion and tried to come to his rescue. However, because the attackers had locked the doors of the building from the outside, those inside could not get out.
As the attackers beat him, Fr Thomas tried to run away but they chased him. He finally made it to the house of Januna, a member of the local Panchayath, or council of elders, about half a kilometre from where the incident started. This saved him; however, he did suffer two deep cuts to the head and wounds to the back and on other parts of the body.
“Around 2 am on 16 December, I heard someone call me: ‘Fatherji, Fatherji’,” the priest said as he related what happened to him.
“Since I thought someone needed my help I opened the presbytery door. I found myself confronted by 10-12 masked men, armed with sticks, who began beating me. I fell down, and they beat me in the back several times. I got up and began running, calling for help. But the attackers had blocked the doors of the driver, cook and animator before they called me. At the gate, two masked men hit me as I tried to go over the wall.”
Some 15 Catholic families live in Odagady. The other residents are Hindu, but the Church takes care of everyone irrespective of caste or faith. Many are Tribal, landless and illiterate peasants who are exploited.
“We give Tribals an education and inform them of their rights,” Fr Thomas said. “Thanks to our self-help groups, which the Church linked to government schemes and benefits, our Tribals are on their way towards self-sufficiency and are able to defend their human dignity. I am certain that the people who attacked me came from the village because they called be fatherji and had not come to steal or ransack.”
Fr Thomas has been in Odagady for the past year and half. “I continue the work of Sister Maria Rani, who worked here for ten years before she was attacked with a knife and killed. She did a great job in improving the conditions of poor people,” the priest said.
“I have five stitches on my head and wounds to my back, but I was ordained a priest to serve the poor, and this is the best way to prepare for the arrival of Jesus, who came to be poor among the poor and the oppressed.”