The new parish will be built in Kadu Banga, Diocese of Bagdogra, home to 400 Catholic families, where people work in a state of virtual slavery on tea plantations. The task of the new pastor will be to "make them grow in faith" and “restore their human dignity”.
Eluru (AsiaNews) - After 160 years in southern India, PIME "is ready to explore new missions in the north, in Bengal,” said Fr Rayarala Vijay Kumar, PIME regional superior in India, speaking to AsiaNews.
For the congregation, "it is like rediscovering the origins of our presence in the Indian peninsula". The new parish will be built by the end of 2019 in Kadu Banga, Diocese of Bagdogra, a thriving mountainous area in the Darjeeling region, home to some 400 Catholic families but no permanent priest.
In Bengal, "there is a missionary air,” the superior noted. “It is an area that brings to mind PIME’s charism, which is to open the vineyards of the Lord on the edges of humanity."
In 1855 the missionary institute took its first steps in central Bengal, in what is now Dinajpur, north of the Padma River (the name the Ganges takes after it crosses into Bangladesh).
Following the partition of the British Raj, the Institute's work in India was concentrated in the southern states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
The local bishop, Mgr Vincent Aind, who was very close to PIME, was behind "many attempts to bring a permanent missionary presence in northern India” where Catholics live side by side with Hindus and Bhagat, who venerate evil spirits.
Although the worship of these deities is very rooted in society, "it is possible to proclaim the Gospel among them,” Fr Kumar said. “The bishop himself told us that they are waiting for a new light. Therefore, we will increase the pastoral care of local Catholics whilst evangelising among non-Christians."
A further challenge will be relations with local Protestant groups. Missionaries "will be tasked with explaining the Marian cult to them, which they deem a form of idolatry".
Darjeeling is known worldwide for its tea. The new parish will be among plantations, where farm labourers have been reduced to a state of virtual slavery by big landowners.
Farmers “do not own the land they cultivate; they are exploited and treated like slaves,” Fr Kumar explained. “Our task will be to restore their human dignity, free them from traditional farming practices and create forms of autonomous consciousness."
To free children from exploitation in the fields, PIME wants to open a Vocational Training Centre, "that is, a technical school where pupils can learn unskilled manual jobs, learn to do a little of everything, like plumbing or electrical installation. Thus, they can find a job right away."
One missionary will follow them. Fr Prashanth Gunja "is already in the area and is learning Hindi. He will be involved in youth outreach, but he must be supported by a senior priest." For now, “we are thinking about the latter,” Fr Kumar said, someone who will be the pastor of the future parish.
In fact, "The area needs a pastor to accompany these people, comfort them and make them grow in faith. We must bear witness and restore human dignity to those who are exploited, work with them, and create bonds of friendship by living with them."