Church Jubilee in Andaman stronger than the Tsunami
Port Blair (AsiaNews) - "I have in my heart a deep sense of gratitude to God, who stood beside me in the past 25 years. The Virgin Mary singing 'My soul magnifies the Lord,' and these words, along with devotion to Our Lady, express what I feel". In 2009, Mgr. Alex Dias, the first Bishop of Port Blair, celebrated the silver jubilee of the diocese and 25 years of episcopate, marked by the tragedy of December 26, 2004 tsunami that devastated the city and a large part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. "A shocking experience - he tells AsiaNews - churches, schools, convents, hospitals, pharmacies, all swept away. But, thank God, we managed to rebuild in record time. "
The first traces of the Christian presence in the area dates back to 1690. Fr. Angelo, a Portuguese Franciscan missionary of Pegu, , moved to Car Nicobar from south of the former Burma and started the work of evangelization. Centuries later, on 15 December 1965, two priests of the Society of Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier established themselves at Port Blair and founded a local community, opening two parishes. A work that led to the erection, on August 18, 1984, of the local diocese, entrusted to the pastoral care of Bishop Alex Dias.
In the 25 years of life, the diocese has seen a steady growth: from the initial five parishes, there are now 14, the number of priests also increased from 15 to 45, from three to 10 congregations of nuns, including the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa, the first to grant the request for help from the bishop to whom she replied: "Bishop, I commend these five sisters to you, please, give me vocations". Catholics count for about 40 thousand (out of a total of just over 100 thousand inhabitants) and are divided into four groups: the adhivasi, tamil, malayalee communities and tribal groups.
The opening ceremony of the Silver Jubilee of the diocese was held January 18, 2009, and a year later, on 16 and 17 January 2010 is scheduled for closure. "It's a completely different reality - explains the bishop - from all the other dioceses in the country. The nearest are Calcutta or Chennai, two hours away by plane from Port Blair. The media are scarce, in many cases non-existent. When he left the Curia for the pastoral visits, only to come back to know what happened during my absence. "
The mission takes place in contact with tribal people and different ethnic groups stationed on the island, but - clarifies Mgr. Dias - the apostolate "also embraces the faithful of other religions". “Hospitals, pharmacies and schools are open to all" and "we keep open the channels of contact through ecumenical meetings and interreligious dialogue”.
The prelate recalled the early years of the diocese, peppered with problems because "I had to build everything from the Bishop's house churches, priests, schools, convents, pastoral centres. A challenge won with the support of Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier, to whom "I feel a deep sense of gratitude." The goal, however, was the birth of the local clergy, to "ensure stability" in the life of the diocese. "The growth in the number of parishes - he says - also means more work and attention to the weakest, and especially women" For this he has personally promoted the work of the laity and the care of young people through educational programs and recreational moments in the diocese. In the 25 years of his episcopate Mgr. Dias has also faced the tragedy of the tsunami, which he calls "the mother of all challenges". "The earthquake and subsequent tidal wave – he remembers - have caused indescribable havoc, in the destroyed lives and property." "We had just started to look back with satisfaction – he adds - on the work we had accomplished" when the tsunami "wiped out all traces of the churches, convents, schools, the land was completely covered with water."
"Five years on - concluded Mgr. Dias - the Lord has confirmed the words he said to his disciples: 'I am with you until the end of time'. Churches and monasteries have been rebuilt in record time, thanks to the "tireless work" of priests and rehabilitation projects "undertaken with the support of many associations and charitable organizations."