India: Seminarian ministering in dangerous jungle to be ordained priest

A brave Catholic seminarian who spent his pastoral placement ministering in India’s remote, cobra-infested jungle will be ordained a priest next week.

Deacon Santosh Kumar has been ministering in the parish Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Kalpahad, North Andaman, where parishioners regularly walk 6 km (3 miles) through dangerous forests to attend Sunday Mass. But Deacon Kumar and the parish priest also have to make the trek through dense forest to get to far-out chapels to celebrate Mass or make pastoral visits.

Deacon Santosh Kumar
Deacon Santosh Kumar

He told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “It is a struggle to get to the remote areas, to have to make our way through the forests. But we think about the people who live in those places and come to Mass, and that gives us the strength to go on.” Stressing the great faith of Catholics living in far-flung parts of the parish, he added: “When we go to those chapels, we never find them empty – they have a thirst for the Eucharist and prayer.”

Not all of the chapels are reached on foot, some of them can be accessed by the region’s basic roads – and ACN provided the parish with a motorbike to help them make these trips. Deacon Kumar said: “The motorbike is very useful because if we didn’t have it we couldn’t fulfil our mission visiting villages 10, 20 or even 30 km away from here.” And he added that sometimes even after covering long distances by road they still need to trek through the jungle to reach their destination.

These are not the only problems faced in Kalpahad parish. Deacon Kumar said: “There is no electricity here, no internet, and a scarcity of water – but we manage to get by.”

Deacon Kumar is set to be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Visuvasam Selvaraj on 12 May. He was the first seminarian in Port Blair Diocese – which covers the whole of India’s Nicobar and Andaman Islands, including remote jungle regions – to receive help with his training from ACN.

His journey to the priesthood began after praying fervently for his father’s recovery from cancer. He said: “I never thought of becoming a priest, but then my father got cancer. I prayed to God, and it started changing my life.” After, his father’s recovery, Deacon Kumar was drawn to the ministry: “In my diocese priests are few in number, but seeing the priest working for the people, I saw their thirst for Christ, and their need for the Mass and other sacraments.”

He concluded: “Thank you to Aid to the Church in Need and all your benefactors for the support you’ve given to me on my path to priesthood.”

 

By John Newton.

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