The diocese of Tezpur lies in the state of Assam, in the far northeast of India, a state well known for its tea production. The 195,000 or so Catholics here make up only a tiny minority of the 84 million people in the state. Most of them belong to various different indigenous tribal groups and work either on the tea plantations or as small peasant farmers. There are few other opportunities for work, and unemployment is high as a consequence. Literacy levels are very low, and so for many people it is well-nigh impossible to escape the vicious circle of poverty and unemployment. Most families live in small huts, in insanitary conditions, with the result that diseases can spread easily. There is no electricity or running water in the villages and scarcely any form of public transport.
The Catholic Church is supporting these people in all their needs and to the best of her ability. Her priests proclaim the Good News of Christ, which is gladly welcomed by many people. The Catholic faithful play an active part in the life of the Church. At the same time the priests tangibly exemplify the Gospel message by helping the poor with practical acts of charity and by helping them, through education and training, to escape the worst of their poverty.
Not surprisingly, the 113 priests of the diocese of Tezpur have their hands very much full with all this work. And since the Church in the region is also very poor, Bishop Michael Akasius Toppo has appealed to ACN for help. He writes: „We are endeavouring to bring the redeeming message of Christ to the people of all tribes and tongues, but we need a helping hand. We are confident that your precious support for our priests, and hence also for their Catholic communities, will be a great incentive. I am sending you this request for Mass stipends, confident of your generous support. Our priests will be forever grateful to you and will remember you and all our kind benefactors at the altar of the Lord.“
The offering of Mass stipends is an ancient tradition in the Church. The priest who celebrates the Holy Mass does so for the intentions of the person who has given the Mass offering, whether it be for a sick person or the soul of a departed loved one or for some other private intention. The money given is in no sense a „payment“ for the Mass but rather a free gift, given in gratitude and for the material support of the priest himself. For many priests in the poorest parts of the world, who often have no other means of support, such Mass offerings are a vital contribution to their survival and to their work on behalf of the whole parish.
We are proposing to give a total of 30,000 Euros in the form of Mass stipends for the material support of the 113 priests in this poor and remote diocese.