10/24/2023, 23.29
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The mission opened by PIME in Jalpaiguri marks its centenary on World Mission Day

by Nirmala Carvalho

The arrival of the first missionaries among tea plantation workers was remembered with the presence of PIME’s Superior General Fr Brambillasca and Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Girelli. The “first seed is bearing fruit today, even far away,” Fr Brambillasca said, thanks to Indian missionaries “currently working in different parts of the world”.

Jalpaiguri (AsiaNews) – World Mission Day provided an opportunity to celebrate the centenary of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Nagrakata, Diocese of Jalpaiguri (India). Founded in 1923 by PIME missionaries, it serves tea plantation workers in West Bengal’s Dooars region.

Some 20,000 people took part in the celebrations, together with Archbishop Thomas D'Souza of Calcutta, Bishop Clement Tirkey of Jalpaiguri, and other prelates from neighbouring dioceses along with PIME Superior General, Fr Ferruccio Brambillasca, and the Apostolic Nuncio to India and Nepal, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli.

"One hundred years ago, Fr Giuseppe Antonio Lazzaroni started a small community of believers with 20 baptisms," said Bishop Vincent Aind of Bagdogra, a nearby diocese, which also joined in the celebrations.

“Eventually he discovered many other Catholics who had come to work on the tea plantations. They had already received the faith in Chota Nagpur thanks to the Belgian missionaries, in particular Fr Constant Lievens.

“Here, in the tea plantations, they kept the faith even though there were no churches, no priests, and no sacraments. Fr. Lazzaroni was manna from heaven for them."

The fruit of that seed is the Diocese of Jalpaiguri, which today has 150,000 members, 73 diocesan priests, 30 men religious and 20 nuns. Tea plantation workers still represent about 90 per cent of local Catholics.

“For the centenary, we celebrated a liturgy in the cathedral with the PIME Superior General and the Apostolic Nuncio, and people prayed for PIME's mission all over the world,” Bishop Clement Tirkey told AsiaNews. “Our people expressed their gratitude to the missionaries for all they have done for the Diocese of Jalpaiguri."

Ant that first seed is bearing fruit today, even far away. "PIME has been operating in India for over 160 years and in recent decades local candidates have become members of the institute," Fr Brambillasca explained. Now “Many young Indian missionaries are currently working in different parts of the world proclaiming the Good News to those who do not know Christ.”

In his view, "This is the sign of a Church that does not limit herself to welcoming, but is also capable of sharing with people the needs of the world and of the universal Church."

Thus, “I pray to God that the Diocese of Jalpaiguri will also be a source of missionary vocations for the universal Church. Likewise, I ask God to accompany it so that it never forgets the Church’s missionary dimension in its pastoral activities. Every local Church would lack an essential characteristic of its existence if it did not have a missionary dimension."

For his part, the Apostolic Nuncio Mons. Girelli, thanked the local Church for its testimony, adding: “It is interesting to note that your diocese has a diverse culture, with large indigenous tribal communities, like the Oraon, Mundas, Adivasi Kharia, Santhal, Boros, Garos, Nepalese, Rabha, Toto and Lepcha, each with its own customs, languages and cultures.

"I hope and pray that this celebration will give a new impetus to your journey in the Lord’s path and towards a renewed life bearing witness to Him.”

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