09/12/2016, 17.43
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Franciscan Sister: the challenge of the mission in the Andaman Islands

by Santosh Digal

Sister Hilda Mary belongs to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. An archipelago of 572 islands, the union territory is home to various tribal groups speaking different languages. The only diocese was set up in 1985. Male, female and youth groups are involved in the parish. Missionaries serve locals.

Port Blair (AsiaNews) – The mission to the Andaman Islands “is really difficult. We have taken it as a challenge to reach out to the people with God's grace,” said Sister Hilda Mary, of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, as she spoke to AsiaNews.

For 20 years, she has carried the Gospel message in a hostile environment. Yet the nun is not discouraged and has already started a series of activities for the Jubilee Year of mercy.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a territory of the Indian Union, located in the southern part of the Bay of Bengal. The archipelago comprises 572 islands, islets and rocks. The capital is Port Blair, which takes its name from Captain Blair of the East India Company.

The islands are accessible by air and sea – 1,244 km from Kolkata (West Bengal) and 1,190 km from Chennai (Tamil Nadu). The population includes various tribal groups and ethnic minorities: Tamil, Bengali, Negrioti, Adivasis, Punjabi, Malaysians and Telegu.

Port Blair is the archipelago’s only archdiocese, created in 1985, with 14 parishes, four men religious and 10 sisters, including some of Mother Teresa's Missionaries.

Sister Hilda belongs to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, one of the congregations active in the area. Present since 1995, it is involved in pastoral work among the natives and aboriginals.

The nun, who works at St Joseph church in Ferrargunj, said that the missionaries "arrived in Ferrarange, 37 km from Port Blair, on 29 September 1995.

“St Joseph Parish is run by Salesian priests, and covers 15 locations with 709 Catholic families. We collaborate with priests in all activities and work together in the villages."

The missionary says that she and three other sisters live as a family in a community called Navadeep, i.e. new light. They collaborate with the pastoral and educational ministry, animate the liturgy and prepare what is needed for Mass.

"Here people are simple and comprise various cultures,” she explained. “Tribal groups speak different languages. We carry out our mission for them, living our religious and missionary life with a new way of being and see God in each one of them, everywhere. "

Locals contribute to different activities as groups. Women are involved in the Mahila Sang group, in charge of maintaining the church, helping the sisters and keeping the faith alive in the family. It meets every month in the parish church to lay out the work to be done.

Young people are in a second group, which is very active in the life of the villages. They participate in the choir, medical camp, and visiting villages. "Young people play a very important role in the local church,” the nun says, “and we are very interested in the growth of children."

The male group, the third and last, is called Purush Sang, and is involved in parish decisions under the guidance of the parish priest.

As for the work of Franciscan nuns, Sister Hilda notes that they are in charge of the catechism for communion, confirmation, premarital courses and accompany parents until their child’s baptism. The nuns also visit the sick and the elderly and bring them the Eucharist.

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