Sindhudurg (AsiaNews) "Every Sunday," said Alwyn Baretto, the Bishop of Sindhudurg and India's newest diocese, "I plan to visit one of the parishes of the diocese, celebrate the Eucharist with the parishioners and meet the local parish council. With such pastoral visits, I'll learn about the reality in which the faithful in the diocese live. Pastoral care has always been very important for me and my vocation."
The new diocese of Sindhudurg was created by the Pope on July 5, separating it from the diocese of Pune in the state of Maharastra, on India's west coast. It includes three districts: Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri and Kolhapur
Bishop Baretto, who officially takes office on October 4, spoke to AsiaNews about the challenges facing India's 151st diocese.
"Residents of the diocese are immigrants from the former Portuguese colony of Goa which is right on the border," he said, "mostly poor people but without the western background of most Goa residents. Culturally, they are Indian through and through and lead a very traditional lifestyle."
"People here are simple and poor, surviving on what they can earn each day. Many are farm workers; others are fishermen working on boats owned by richer fishermen," he pointed out.
Among the other challenges he faces, there is that of "poaching" by proliferating Evangelical sects.
"Evangelicals," he noted, "take advantage of the ignorance and simplicity of these people, arbitrarily citing the Scriptures to frighten them. It is a pity that they make a bad use of the Bible in the Name of Jesus and drive others away from the Truth".
Bishop Baretto was born in Mapusa (Goa) on December 22, 1952. After studying philosophy at the Saint Charles Seminary in Nagpur and theology at the Papal Seminary in Pune, he was ordained priest in Pune on October 13, 1979 where, in 2004, he celebrated 25 years in the priesthood. For 24 of these 25 years, he took care of the spiritual welfare of the people of Sindhudurg district.
"I was the deacon for the whole district in the last nine years," he said. "Many times, I played a determining role, but I have never felt anyone put obstacles on my path or that I was persecuted."
"A great deal of those nine years were taken up by pastoral visits, especially among those who left the Catholic Church," he said. "I faced down the arguments of the sects with simple compassion, relying on the Bible, contextualising the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament and the Letters of Saint Paul."
What is more, he added, "seeing our love for them and our seeking them out, seeing also that their welfare was our greatest concern, these people started making their way back to the Church. I strongly believe that pastoral care towards those who are hurt, those facing problems, those who are excluded or confused, is the right way. These experiences will help me lead this diocese."
In response to a question about Hindu fundamentalists, Bishop Baretto said that "two years ago sectarian violence broke out between Catholics and Hindus in this city. All because of a road. The RSS brought muscle power to the Hindus, but fortunately the issue was solved when both communities accepted to provide half of the land for construction."
"There are many Muslims in Sindhudurg," he also noted, "and many of them don't trust us. But since we run many schools and hospitals which are open to all, irrespective of social class or religion, Christian missionaries are treated with great respect".