07/07/2020, 15.55
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Mission in Bhanria, Chhattisgarh, caught between quarantine and hostilities

by Nirmala Carvalho

Bishop Emmanuel Kerketta of Jashpur had plans to expand a local mission, but everything is on hold because of Hindu opposition. A new parish priest is under quarantine because of COVID-19. The diocese has about 200,000 members, mostly farmers and farmworkers, “poor but very generous”.

Jashpur (AsiaNews) – Father Sarat Kumar Nayak is the new parish priest at St Vincent Pallotti Church in Bhanria. He arrived on 22 June but has been in "home quarantine" since then.

Bhanria is a missionary parish in the Diocese of Jashpur, Chhattisgarh. It is located 45 kilometres from the diocesan headquarters in Kunkuri and 90 kilometres from the district headquarters in Jashpur.

Last Sunday, Bishop Emmanuel Kerketta of Jashpur paid an informal visit to the parish to welcome and greet Fr Sarat Kuman Nayak.

The prelate told Father Sarat Nayak that "this is a very challenging mission and the extension of the mission is very difficult".

Fr Sarat Kumar Nayak, 39, is a Pallottine missionary who served as parish priest at a mission substation in Sundargarh district, Diocese of Rourkela, Odisha.

The clergyman is greatly devoted to Our Lady and has led his parishioners on many pilgrimages to Marian shrines across the country.

“Bhanria is a tribal area,” he explained. “Our people are simple people, but they are strong in faith and very strong in their love for Jesus and Mother Mary. Most tribal people are farmers and farmworkers; some are teachers and nurses.”

Overall, Jashpur has about 200,000 Catholics, mostly tribal.  “They are poor but very generous,” Fr Sarat noted. “They have a tradition that when they cook rice, a handful is kept aside for the Church, and they collect the rice daily and offer it to priests on Sunday.”

Each “week, every family offers a kilo of rice to the Church. This is a tradition followed by every Catholic household in Bhanria. They believe that by giving God rice, their own supply of rice grains will never end.” They say: “When we offer something to the Lord, the Lord gives back in abundance.”

Meanwhile, the new mission is expanding. “This parish is growing to better serve the pastoral needs of the people,” Fr Sarat said. “Archbishop Kerketta wants to split it and open a new mission.”

To this end, “The Diocese of Jashpur has purchased the land to build a church for this new missionary station, but the people of from the dominant religion oppose the construction of the church.” Thus, “In spite of all the legal provisions in force, the dominant group got a court order that stopped everything.”

"This parish has a thousand families in 16 villages, and Bishop Kerketta wanted a new missionary station to benefit people and meet their pastoral needs, but this is a very difficult challenge."

Bhanria is a hilly area and rice fields abound along the road. Tribal people live in hamlets that are difficult to reach because of thick forests. People are economically poor; however, they have a genuine faith. They are pious and God fearing.”

Generally, “Bhanria is a challenging mission, and creating a new one is very difficult,” said Archbishop Kerketta. “I travelled to all 16 villages to meet the people who will be supported by us”.

The goal is “to make inroads in this new area through our social, medical and educational outreach to the poor, the marginalised and vulnerable people. We also want to serve women and especially the children of this remote rural area.”

“We bought the land in 2014 and completed all the legal formalities, but due to the challenges and mistrust of others, as well as court orders, everything is now suspended.

“We started to put up some walls and built some small huts in 2017. We wanted to complete it by the end of last May. It appears now that it will take time to go through all the problems we face. There are a lot of anti-Christian activities here.”

“I spoke with local ministers. They told me they would do it, but the opposing forces are very strong. Once the building is completed, people will welcome it, but to get the work done we require a lot of approvals.”

“Our plan is to build rooms for priests and nuns, a kitchen and a chapel. Once approved, we will start the mission. However, this is taking time in the current situation,” said the prelate. “We hope that despite all this, one day we will succeed.”

For now, Fr Sarat Nayak is still under “home quarantine, but I am looking forward to visiting people, families, villages, personally seeing the situation in which they live and work.

“My desire is to bring these people to Jesus, to share with them the Good News, to teach children and youth to love Jesus.”

Last but not least, “there is also a social dimension to my ministry, uplifting people. We have a school and a hostel for 150 students” to achieve that goal.

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