The new bishop has been at the Meghalaya mission for 44 years. The State’s Christians number around 2.5 million, or 74.59 per cent of the total population.
Tura (Meghalaya) (AsiaNews) – The hilly state of Meghalaya has a new bishop. Jose Chirackal (pictured) was ordained on Saturday; his chosen motto is “Become all things to all people" (1 Cor 9:22).
The newly-ordained auxiliary bishop of Tura has been at the Meghalaya mission for 44 years. He arrived at the age of 16 from the southern Indian state of Kerala, and had dedicated his whole life to ethnic Garos, Rabhas, Koch, Hajong and Bora present in the Diocese of Tura.
The Christian community in Meghalaya numbers around 2.5 million or 74.59 per cent of the State’s population, making it the third-most Christian state in India after Nagaland and Mizoram (90 per cent).
Meghalaya means "the abode of clouds" in Sanskrit, and is one of the seven states of north-eastern of India, famous for its hilly landscape and heavy rains.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Italian Salesian missionaries began their mission in and around Tura, whose diocese now has 290,000 members, divided in 44,335 families in 2,199 villages and 44 parishes. Overall, the State has 850,000 Catholics.
For the local clergy, the local geography is the main obstacle to pastoral outreach and missionary work. Yet, chance led the new bishop to the Meghalaya mission. As he puts it, Providence comes in unknown ways to each person.
Now 60, Bishop Chirackal hails from Karukutty parish in Kerala. “Back in1976, after high school, I could not join the diocesan seminary because I was late in sending in my application for admission.”
Instead, “I saw an advertisement in a Catholic magazine regarding recruitment by the minor seminary of the new Diocese of Tura in Meghalaya. So, since the age of 16, I have been in Meghalaya.” He was eventually ordained priest in 1987.
“The zeal of our new bishop is exemplary," said Fr Jose Edavakandam speaking to AsiaNews. The latter has worked with Bishop Chirackal in the Diocese of Tura as a procurator.
He describes Bishop Chirackal as a mission-oriented priest since his ordination, someone who dedicated his whole life to the people of Tura and Meghalaya.
According to Fr Edavakandam, the choice of the new bishop's motto is intrinsically related to his way of living in relation to various ethnic, religious and economic groups in the Diocese of Tura.
Missionary activities vary considerably in the Meghalaya mission and in the dioceses of north-eastern India.
Fr Jose Edavakandam’s own parish, on the border with Bangladesh, is home to about 1,400 Catholic families scattered in 48 villages.
“Most parishes have only one priest who, like me, can visit the villages only twice a year, mostly because of travel difficulties, especially during the rainy season. Visits occur between October and June.”
Still, “the faithful do gather sporadically in certain regional centres to celebrate the sacraments, hold retreats etc. In every village, catechists celebrate the Word of God every Sunday.”
Bishop Jose Chirackal, who was parish priest in several villages in the diocese, can help the bishop, Mgr Andrew Raksam Marak, thanks to his knowledge of several local languages, most notably Garo, Rabha, Boro Koch, Hajong, Assamese, Khasi, Bengali and English.