The far northeast of India is linked to the rest of the country only by a narrow corridor of land. It is one of the poorest regions in India and an area of frequent unrest.
In relative terms the Catholic Church is quite young here. It began to spread here only around the end of the 19th century – and in many regions only in the last few decades. There are around 2 million Catholics living in this region, most of whom belong to the ethnic minorities. Owing to an influx of Bengali migrants from Bangladesh, the proportion of Muslims in the population has grown much faster in recent decades in northeast India than in other parts of the country.
One of the more recent dioceses in northeast India is that of Bongaigaon, in the state of Assam. There are around 67,000 Catholics here among a total population of some 64 million. Most of these Catholics belong to the indigenous Bodo peoples. However, in the diocese as a whole at least a dozen different languages are spoken.
Whereas in the past it was foreign missionaries who first announced the gospel here, today the Church is increasingly represented by indigenous vocations. Currently there are 23 young men from the diocese of Bongaigaon who are preparing for ordination as priests. They themselves come overwhelmingly from poor, indigenous families who can do little to contribute financially to the formation of their sons. ACN has stepped in to help with a promise of 9,200 Euros.
The diocese of Rayagada is situated in the south of the Indian state of Odisha (formerly also known as Orrisa), which became notorious 10 years ago for the violent attacks against Christians there. It is also the fourth poorest federal state in India.
Within the territory of the diocese there are just 50,000 Catholics among a total population of approximately 5.5 million people. Most of these Catholics come from the poorest and most socially excluded levels of society and many live a bare subsistence existence, gathering fruits and firewood from the forests. Most are illiterate and if they are forced to borrow and fall into debt, they face exorbitant interest rates from the moneylenders, with the result that their families fall into a form of debt slavery.
The diocese of Rayagada covers a vast area of well over 15,000 square miles (40,000 km²), and many of the villages lie in remote corners in the forests or valleys. There are just 24 parishes, also very large in area, so that the distances to be covered are considerable.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the 30 catechists play an important role. They visit the faithful in the villages and are frequently, so to speak, the „visible face of the Church“ in places where the priests only rarely manage to get. But even for the catechists many of the villages are still very difficult to reach. Until recently, the catechists had to make these long and difficult journeys on foot. But recently, thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, ACN has been able to help Bishop Alphinar Senapati to provide each of them with a bicycle. Now they are able to reach the faithful much more quickly and easily. You contributed 1,630 Euros for this purpose. Our heartfelt thanks to all who helped us!
In Northeast India the Catholic Church is still – relatively – young. In 2016 it celebrated 120 years of ministry here. However, in many parts of this region Catholic missionaries were only able to enter the region during the second half of the 20th century. This is an isolated and underdeveloped region, marked by political unrest and conflicts, by deep poverty and many other problems. But the Church here is very much alive and vital, and by now there are almost 2 million Catholics in the region, while the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life is growing.
Help for the training of 28 young religious women in India
The Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod have been working in Northeast India for 37 years now, and recently they established a new regional province for the congregation in the city of Guwahati, in the state of Assam. The congregation has 18 convents in the region, with 96 professed sisters. They care in particular for physically and mentally handicapped children and for sick people generally. They also help young girls from poor family backgrounds who are unable to continue their school education, teaching them useful practical skills such as needlework, sewing and darning, including handmade decorations, so they can later support themselves financially. They also help families and women, giving encouragement and counselling and striving to convey the love of God for all by their lives. Precisely because the Church in this region is still so relatively young, there is a great deal still to be done to help the faith become deeply rooted in people‘s hearts and souls.
At present there are 28 religious sisters still in formation. Like most of the Catholics in this region, they too come from poor families and from the ethnic minorities. The congregation needs financial help in order to be able to provide them with a solid spiritual and vocational formation. Some of them will even pursue university studies, to help them better confront the many challenges they face. ACN is proposing a contribution of 16,800 Euros.
Young Father Ravi Kumar Devarapalli of the diocese of Eluru is delighted at his new moped, which he has been able to purchase thanks to the help of ACN‘s benefactors, who gave him 1200 Euros. Now it is much easier for him to visit the Catholic faithful in the surrounding villages.
The parish mission where he works is situated in an underdeveloped, rural region. He has no presbytery of his own, so he has to live in the bishop‘s house. Until now he managed to visit his central parish by using public transport, but in order to reach the villages in the outlying hilly countryside, he had to use a bicycle and battle his way over rough and difficult tracks. This was both exhausting and time-consuming, and besides, some of the villages are a long way from the parish center. There are nine of these villages in which people have already been baptized, and some of them are up to 10 miles (15 km) away, while the other three villages – in which the people are still preparing for baptism – are even up to twice that distance – 20 miles (30 km) away. Almost all the people have to work hard all day, as landless agricultural workers, day laborers or household servants, so that the priest can only visit them in the evenings. As a result, Father Ravi often had to cycle late at night along these long and difficult tracks. And on Sundays and holy days, he would often arrive late for Holy Mass, having been unable to make it on time on his bicycle.
“The people here are very poor and simple, but they are very open to the message of Christ”, Father Ravi explains. But the sects are also beginning to arrive in the region, and if the Church fails, for lack of resources, to provide adequate pastoral care for the people, they may well fall an easy prey to the sects, who often have considerably more money and personnel and who often take people in with their easy and unrealistic promises. But now, thanks to his new moped, Father Ravi can visit the people much more frequently.
“I am very happy to be able to exercise my priestly ministry here” says Father Ravi, who was ordained to the priesthood only in 2016. And he asks us to convey his thanks to our benefactors and tell them this: “Many people make decisions that change people‘s lives. Thank you for being such people! Your generosity will help me and our diocese to do the same for others. Thanks to your generosity we can go on helping to improve the lives of the Catholic faithful, above all in a spiritual sense. Thank you again for your goodness and kindheartedness!”
5 March 2018 was a day of great celebration for the Catholic faithful in West Vipparu. It was the day on which their beautiful new chapel was finally consecrated after a wait of 16 long years. Until then all they had was a very small chapel with an asbestos roof, one which moreover threatened to collapse at any moment. And moreover it was far too small for the steadily growing number of the faithful. And so the people had long dreamt of being able to build a new church. But in their poverty, and despite the many great sacrifices they made, they simply could not raise the necessary funding.
But then their parish priest finally turned to ACN for help, and their dream became reality – for our generous benefactors did not disappoint. ACN was able to give them 10,000 Euros for the construction of a new chapel. All the building work was carried out by the Catholic faithful themselves, under the supervision of an expert builder, while the essential building materials were obtained thanks to the generosity of our benefactors.
Success Story: Consecration of the village chapel in West Vipparu, India
West Vipparu is one of many villages belonging to the parish of Tadepalligudem. In 11 of these villages almost all the inhabitants are baptised, while in others there are still many people awaiting baptism. As a result the priest is kept very busy visiting the people in the villages. In West Vipparu the new chapel is truly the heart of the community, and not only during times of Mass and catechetical instruction but also outside of them. As their parish priest tells us, „The faithful are quite certain that God is here, and so they also go to the chapel even when the priest cannot get there, and bring their cares to Jesus.“
The chapel is dedicated to the Infant Jesus of Prague, who is greatly venerated by the Catholic faithful all over India. There are many large shrines to the Infant Jesus in India; in fact these are some of the greatest shrines in the world where the Infant Jesus of Prague is venerated. But increasingly, even in the remotest corners of the country, churches and chapels are being dedicated to him.
„The dedication ceremony was an unforgettable day“, writes the parish priest, Father Dharma Raju Matta. The local Bishop Jaya Rao Polimera had also come specially from Eluru to consecrate the chapel. And even after the ceremony, he remained for a long time, close to his people and listening to their cares and concerns.
„We want to express our profound and sincere gratitude for the wonderful help you have given to our mission“, writes Father Raju Matta. And he assures us that his faithful are praying the Rosary regularly for everyone who helped!
In Northeast India the Church is still relatively young. In 2016 in fact it celebrated just 120 years in this region, which is still one of the poorest and most inaccessible parts of India, plagued by poverty, unrest and social problems. It is an isolated and underdeveloped area.
Today around 2 million of the total population of 45 million in the region are Catholics. And whereas once it was European missionaries who brought the Gospel message here, today the Church in the region can boast a growing number of indigenous vocations.
Holy communion. India
The Carmelite Order is particularly rich in new vocations, and at the present time 34 young men are in various stages of their priestly formation. In fact there was great joy last year, when four Carmelite brothers – the first in Northeast India – were ordained to the priesthood. At the same time five young men were ordained to the diaconate and are now already looking forward to ordination as priests. The Carmelite Fathers first began their mission in the region in 2003 with a simple bamboo-clad house. But by now they have several monasteries in the seven federal states of Northeast India and are pursuing a fruitful apostolate in the region.
The Carmelite Order wants to be able to offer the best possible training to its young members. However, generally speaking the parents of these young men are very poor – just like the majority of the population in this part of the world. For the most part they are small peasant farmers or landless day labourers, living from hand to mouth and trying to support their children. Consequently, the Carmelites cannot expect any financial contribution from their families and so have to provide everything themselves – board and lodging, study costs, travel costs, medical care and even clothing for the seminarians, plus of course the salaries of the teaching staff. But costs are also rising, and so the Order is dependent on outside help to cover the cost of training the young brothers.