Hazaribag Jesuit priest Fr Tony Herbert joined students at St Ignatius’ College Riverview last week to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Fr AT Thomas.
Fr Anchanikal T (known as ‘AT’) Thomas was a Jesuit missionary, committed to helping the poor in Hazaribag, India. He stood up for their rights against local insurgents, and as a consequence of this, was kidnapped and killed on 25 October 1997.
Riverview has a human rights group named after the Jesuit priest, the AT Thomas Advocacy Group (ATTAG).
The school’s Mass on 25 October was dedicated to AT Thomas. Fr Herbert, who knew AT well, spoke to students from the ATTAG team after the Mass.
AT worked among the Dalits in India, the poorest and most oppressed caste in the country, also known as the ‘untouchables’. He took up legal disputes on their behalf, once helping a group of villagers go to court to recover a plot of land that was taken away from them.
In 1997, he was in the village of Sirka, where some local insurgents were extorting money from the village chief. The insurgents recognised AT as an advocate from a previous dispute, and so kidnapped him. No ransom note was received. His decapitated body was found in a riverbed on 27 October.
In an article in Viewpoint newsletter last week, Fr Ross Jones said that Fr Herbert underscored that, when it came to advocating for the poor, AT was always something of a ‘rebel’.
‘Fr Tony underscored that in his various causes, AT seemed always to be challenging superiors or provoking bishops to think or act differently. A burr under the saddle. It was good to be reminded that those who take the Gospel imperatives seriously do not just piously flee the world, but embrace it energetically to bring about the Kingdom’, said Fr Jones.
While not a traditional martyr, AT’s life and death mark him as a candidate for what has become known as a ‘martyr of charity’ – someone who has died as a result of their charitable work. His tomb and the place where he was killed have become pilgrimage sites for thousands of Dalits and tribal people each year.
Source: Viewpoint newsletter.
Pictured: Members of the A T Thomas Advocacy Group (ATTAG): (back, lr) Tom Rogerson, Bluey Adamo, Fr Tony Herbert SJ, Zac Marshall, Tom Brown, Fr Ross Jones SJ, Patrick Brady, Richard O’Brien, Mitch Hope; (front, lr) Henry Pidcock, Hugo Perignon, Nick Stejer, Henry Chapman, Patrick Fuccilli and George Goodman. An image of Fr A T Thomas SJ is central.