New York: Christians celebrated the Indian Christian Day with prayers and tears in light of the great calamity faced by the Christian community in Manipur. The celebration, which was supposed to be held on July 3, the day of St. Thomas, was held a day earlier at the Cathedral Hall of the Malankara Catholic Church in Elmont, New York. It was a rare gathering of Indian Christians from across denominations, regions, and languages who lived in greater New York. Church Fathers, priests, and dignitaries arrived with blessings and greetings.
Bryan Nerran, who had to spend seven and a half months in prison in India on trumped up charges, and Rev. Mark Mang, a native of Manipur whose cousin died at the hands of the militants and others, pointed to the rapid changes that are taking place as regards curtailing of religious freedom in India. Several choirs from various churches with their Singing made the ceremony more devotional.
Bishop of Marthoma Church, Isaac Mar Filoxenos Episcopa, who was the chief guest, mentioned the new trends by those in power to rewrite history. He went on to add that they may have political and social reasons to indulge in those efforts; however, the facts will not be erased from history. We should be proud of our history and heritage. The Bishop said, “Suffering and pain have also affected the people of Israel. They cried out while they were in captivity in Babylon. They lamented how we could sing God’s song in a foreign land. We are safe and content here in America. But we cannot accept the pains of our brothers in India. Let us pray for peace to be restored there. Let human rights be restored there. We may belong to different churches. But the important thing is that we stand together. We must stand together in the miseries facing humanity while accepting our differences. We owe it to ourselves to raise our voices. We must also be ready to die for the kingdom of God. As successors of St. Thomas the Apostle, we should be proud. The light of the gospel reached our country in the first century.”
“Saint Thomas is mentioned three times in the Bible. In the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus decides to go to Bethany to comfort the family of Lazarus. But the disciples, knowing that there were people there who could kill him, asked if it was necessary. Once Jesus decided to go, Thomas said we could go and die with him. In the fourteenth chapter, Jesus speaks of himself and his departure. Then Thomas says: ‘We do not know the way you are going. How do we know that?’ To which Jesus replied: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. Those who know me know the Father.’ The third opportunity is to see Jesus after the ascension. Jesus sees Thomas, who says he will not believe unless he sees Jesus face to face and touches the wound in his hand. We always remember Thomas’s response looking at the hands, ‘My Lord and my God.’ We have the tradition of St. Thomas, who always stood firm in his faith. We should never miss it – Bishop exhorted.
Bishop Mar Joy Allapat of the Syro-Malabar Church pointed out that even in America, there is no certainty of what will happen in the future. “After Manipur, some people said Kerala would be the next target. Christianity arrived in Kerala much before Europe Embraced it. However, today our brothers are facing difficulties back home in India. Historically we have faced persecution. However, Bible speaks about being strengthened in the face of persecution. As the Bible says, we are like sheep in the middle of wolves. Therefore, let us unite and encourage our brothers in Manipur,” the Bishop added.
Rt. Rev. Dr. C.V Mathew of the Evangelical Church spoke about the Manipur situation and wondered aloud why the Indianness of Christians is being questioned. He implored the authorities to respect the constitution that guarantees the religious freedom of every citizen. He also encouraged the people to unite and support those in harm’s way. Rt. Rev. Johncy Itty of the Episcopal Church applauded the organizers of the Indian Christian Day, pointing out that we would never give up faith because of persecution.
Rev. Mark Mang explained Manipur’s pain. He said he has been in America for eight years, currently serving as a Chaplain. We don’t know what heaven is like. But we think it’s all coming together so as this gathering. His cousin and four others fell victim to the unlicensed gun of the assailants while defending the village. The riot could have been stopped in one day. It didn’t happen. Three hundred fifty-four churches were destroyed, and it continues. It is not even possible to go and bury the dead bodies in the hospital. More than fifty thousand people are refugees in different states. There will be torture and killings, but in the end, God’s glory will be revealed there. Pray for us and bring help. He said that he is thinking of going to Manipur soon.
Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations President Koshy George (Fiacona) pointed out that it has been decided to celebrate St. Thomas’s Day, July 3, as Indian Christian Day everywhere. The day before, the celebration took place in Boston, and on July 3 rd across India as well. Efforts are being made to bring a new understanding that Christianity is two thousand years old in India, and St.Thomas came in A.D. 52 and was martyred on July 3, A.D. 72. There are thousands of denominations among Christians. But we all worship Jesus while believing in the Trinity. He asked if it would be best to set aside all our differences and meet at least for one day.
Guests were given a history of the seven and a half churches founded by St. Thomas and a report on atrocities in India. State Senator John Lou, Sibu Nair of the Asian Outreach Officer in the N.Y. Governor’s Office, Rev. Jacob George, and others spoke.
Rev. Wilson Jose offered the opening prayer, and Fr. John Thomas offered the closing prayer. Rev.N.K. Matthew offered a special prayer for the people in Manipur.
George Abraham, who expressed a vote of thanks, pointed out that those who are from Kerala do not know much about civil wars. We don’t know the condition of being chased away from home and worried about the future in the corner of some school or abandoned building. He encouraged everyone to help those who are driven into such a situation in Manipur. FIACONA was formed when there was an attack on Christians in Dangs district of Gujarat. When Graham Staines and his children were burnt to death, we condemned such a heinous crime. Unfortunately, only a few people know about this organization. Many people from all spheres of life are working hard with dedication in defense of religious freedom everywhere. Some people have paid a heavy price for their advocacy. John Prabhudoss, the chairman, is currently barred from entering India. There is a fear that the OCI card is being weaponized to silence the critics abroad. He expressed hope that NRIs will be energized to defend human rights and religious freedom here in the U.S. as well as in India.
CSI Jubilee Choir, New York Men’s Voices, IPC Jamaica Choir Rev. Milton James (solo), and Bethlehem Punjabi Church sang.
Koshy George, Mary Phillip, Dr. Anna George, Koshi Thomas, Paul D. Panakkal, George Abraham, Raju Abraham, Matthew P Thomas, Matthew Eapan, Jerin Joe James, Pastor Jacob George, Shaimi Jacob, Koshi Thomas, Rev. Milton G. James (Sr.), George Chacko, John Joseph, Chuck Pillai, Don Thomas, Dr. Cynthia Prabhakar, Rev. Anadhasekhar Manuel, rev. Christer Solomon, Lona Abraham, and others led the way.