Violence against Christians in the Indian state of Orissa continues as Hindus retaliate for the murder of one of their top leaders last week.
Hindu activists burned a Christian orphanage Monday, killing a Christian woman and seriously injuring a priest. The violence has spread to include mob attacks on churches, shops and homes. At least 11 people are dead.
In response to the violence against India's Christians, the National United Christian Forum has declared Sunday, September 7, 2008 a Day of Prayer and Fasting. For more information click here.
According to reports from Gospel for Asia leaders, as many as 20 GFA-related churches were destroyed and hundreds of Christian families have been burned out of their homes. Many Christians have taken refuge in the forest.
"The Christians in Orissa have fled for their lives into the forests," GFA President K.P. Yohannan said, "and some have been in hiding for three days without food or water."
He added, "Several of our pastors are in the forest along with their church people, and one said that he could have escaped, but would rather die with his people than leave them."
Although police pinned the death of the World Hindu Council leader on Maoist rebels, Hindu activists blamed Christians. The area has a history of Hindu-Christian clashes fueled by Hindu suspicions about missionary work among the poor.
"I have never seen persecution so bad in my life," Yohannan said, "and I have seen a lot of opposition to the Gospel over the years.
"Yet this past year, we have seen more people place their faith in Jesus Christ in Orissa than in any other Indian state," Yohannan added. "So it is no surprise that opposition is increasing."
In protest, roughly 30,000 Christian-run schools and colleges closed in India on Friday.
During his weekly Vatican address, Pope Benedict XVI said the attacks had "profoundly saddened" him.
He also described as "deplorable" the killing of a Hindu leader, saying he was against "any attack on human life."
Christians make up 2.5 percent of India's 1.1 billion people. Relations between Hindus and Christians are mostly peaceful, but conversions to Christianity anger hard-line Hindu groups.
Last year, four people were killed and nearly 20 churches destroyed in similar clashes in Orissa.
Sources: Reuters, Gospel for Asia, One News Now, The Associated Press