Mumbai 14 August 2016: Most Rev. Raphael Cheenath, SVD, (82) Archbishop Emeritus of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar passed away on 14 August 2016, at the Holy Spirit Hospital, Mumbai. The funeral will be conducted on 17 August 2016 at 3pm at the Sacred Heart Church, Andheri, Mumbai. Archbishop Cheenath suffered much when Kandhamal in his Archdiocese was subjected to terrible attacks against Christians.
The archdiocese Cuttack-Bhubaneswar covers Kandhamal district of the eastern Indian state of Odisha that in 2008 witnessed the worst anti-Christian violence in India’s modern history. Archbishop braved the worst Christian persecution and provided leadership to a people who were shattered. During the persecution around “60,000 had to flee to the forests to save their lives after 6,000 and more houses were destroyed by the attackers. More than 100 men and women were killed, and many women, including Catholic nuns, were gang raped.
Archbishop Cheenath “died a winner” since the Supreme Court of India on 2 August 2016 upheld the prelate’s Public Interest Litigation for enhanced relief to the victims of the August 2008 targeted violence against the Christian community of Kandhamal. He stoutly fought for justice. When the Odisha government refused NGOs and civil society to distribute relief among Kandhamal victims and survivors, he took the matters to the Supreme Court and got the state government order cancelled.
At the time of his retirement, Archbishop Cheenath had lauded Christians of Kandhamal for setting an example of living the faith in a hostile environment. “You have raised the faith into new heights at the face of death. I am proud of you,” he told some 3,000 people at Raikia, a divisional headquarters in Kandhamal district.
Archbishop Raphael Cheenath was born on 30 December 1934, at Manalur, Trichur district, Kerala. He hails from the parish of St Mary’s at Pallissery in Trichur Syro-Malabar Archdiocese. After his school education he joined the Society of Divine Word and was ordained priest on 20 September 1963 at the age 28. He became the Bishop of Sambalpur on 18 May 1974 at the age of 39.
He was appointed as the Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar on 1 July 1985 at the age of 50 and installed as the fifth Archbishop of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Metropolitan Archdiocese on 11 August 1985. On 11th February 2011 at the age of 76 he retired from the Office of the Archbishop. After his retirement he was at Soverdia SVD House, Andheri, Mumbai with this Confreres of Society of Divine Word Congregation. He was a priest for 53 years and a Bishop for 42 years.