India: Training lay leaders for the family apostolate

The diocese of Tura, in the state of Meghalaya in northeast India, began very modestly when it was first founded in 1973, with just four parishes and around 40,000 Catholic faithful. Today it has 45 parishes, and the number of Catholics has likewise increased massively.

The majority of the population in the diocese of Tura belong to the indigenous ethnic minorities, the largest group being the Garo people, who are culturally very distinct from the other ethnic groups in the region, notably by being a matriarchal society in which the mother is the head of the family. However, there are other ethnic groups within the territory of the diocese as well.

There is virtually no industry in the region, and the people live mainly from subsistence agriculture, which is dependent on the monsoon rains. Above all in the most rural areas there is considerable poverty and many people have no access to schooling.

„It is high time to involve the laity, so that they can take on an active role in the family apostolate“, says Bishop Andrew Marak of Tura diocese.
„It is high time to involve the laity, so that they can take on an active role in the family apostolate“, says Bishop Andrew Marak of Tura diocese.

To overcome this problem, the Church has established residential hostels in several places for children and young people whose home villages are so remote that they would otherwise be unable to make the long journey to school. It is also from among these young people that most of the religious vocations eventually arise. But there are many other children who are left to their own devices and whose parents are unable to cope with the religious upbringing of their children. Indeed, it is they themselves who often need support and accompaniment in their faith, and so they do not have the necessary formation in order to be able to support their children. So they tend to leave this responsibility to the priests and the sisters – who of course cannot be everywhere at once.

Naturally, these priests and religious are already serving in numerous different villages, and their workload is becoming ever greater. Meanwhile, the need for pastoral accompaniment of the families and young people is of the highest importance, since many young people marry with those of other faiths and end up giving up their own Catholic faith. Divorce and broken families are also on the increase. Moreover, there are certain local traditions that are problematic, for example the practice of arranged marriages between cousins, which is still widespread. And then there is the practice whereby, if one of the couple dies, the other is often remarried to a relative. In such situations the age difference may well be considerable. The idea behind these traditions is to keep the wealth and property within the family. However, more and more young people are rejecting these traditions, which respect neither the free will nor the happiness of the parties to the marriage. This in turn leads to conflicts within families. So here too there is plenty of work for the Church to do.

The diocese of Tura has today 45 parishes.
The diocese of Tura has today 45 parishes.

„It is high time to involve the laity, so that they can take on an active role in the family apostolate“, says Bishop Andrew Marak of Tura diocese. For stable Christian families have a crucial role to play within the Church and in society. But of course these lay helpers first of all need to be trained for their work with the families, and so the bishop has established a programme for this purpose. It will involve special training courses for 630 lay helpers, divided into five groups.

But the problem is that the bishop doesn‘t have the money he needs. As a result of the pandemic, the income from the Sunday collections has dwindled to almost nothing. And the families cannot afford to contribute anything more than a handful of rice from time to time.

And so we have agreed to support this crucial programme with a contribution of 7000 Euros. Then the families will be able to have the support they need.

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