Holy Cross church is in the interior of the Diocese of Bagdogra, far from urban centres. Isolation, child education, spiritual preparation of youth, and building a larger church are the most urgent challenges in what “is truly a land of mission.”
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) inaugurated yesterday its newest church in Kharubanga, Diocese of Bagdogra, on the border with Bangladesh, thus following in the footsteps of “the missionaries who worked in the past to re-establish the presence of PIME in West Bengal.”
For Fr Prasanth Kumar Gunja, the new vice parish priest at Holy Cross Church sent by the institute to renew the missionary presence in this part of India, this “represents as a sign of divine Providence of tangible pastoral help for Catholics in the diocese.”
The area, he said, “is truly a land of mission, lacking in everything. People are very poor, employed in tea plantations, without schooling. Hence, my eagerness to do more for them is even stronger.”
The church was inaugurated yesterday in the presence of some 500 people, "including many worshippers, the missionaries of the Immaculate Conception,[*] and Fr Clemet, the former regent of the small church.”
The latter “concelebrated Mass with Bishop Vincent Aind of Bagdogra, the new parish priest Fr Xaviour Ambati Babu, PIME, who is back from Cameroun after 15 years, and myself. It will be my task to introduce the parish priest into the life of the community.”
The PIME church is a small building some four kilometres from the road to Kolkata. The church has a room where the former regent lived and where Fr Prasanth will live. Another room and the parish office are currently under construction. "We hope to be able to finish by next week, so we can finally move in.”
The church lies in the interior, far from major cities. “One has to travel several kilometres from the main road to find it. The parish itself serves nine villages.
“There are almost 400 Catholic resident families, 1,500 people. Distance is one of the biggest challenges as people are isolated from everything, from schools, the market.”
One of the first initiatives PIME wants to undertake is “enlarge the church which is too small and can accommodate a maximum of 150 people. On Sunday, the day when almost everyone comes to Mass, only one in ten can come inside; the others have to remain outside.”
Secondly, "we want to focus on the spiritual preparation of believers, facilitate contacts with other parishes, turn participation in the life of the Church as a large family into something tangible, and create a feeling of reciprocity.”
In this regard, “I saw a good number of youth help prepare yesterday’s the ceremony without being asked. It shows that they are ready for the Church, raising hope for future vocations.”
Together with the youth ministry, “we must improve child education. The parish runs a primary school for 271 children up to the fourth grade. Their families are very poor, mostly employed in the tea industry. The parents earn very little and cannot afford to pay for higher education. We would like to start a long-distance adoption programme to give them a different future.”
The lack of facilities, extreme poverty, and the need for pastoral care "make the missionary presence even more urgent. The inauguration, on the day of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, is a sign of Divine Providence, which guides us in helping these families.”
Finally, for Fr Prasanth, “Having a PIME parish in this remote area is a great joy, for it recreates the sense of family, of belonging of the mission. We are ready to meet the challenge of a Church going forth.” (A.C.F.)
[*] Female congregation associated with PIME.