(AsiaNews) – In the diocese of Jalpaiguri, India, World Missionary Day was the occasion to celebrate the centenary of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Nagrakata, founded in 1923 by PIME missionaries among the tea plantation workers in the Dooars region, in West Bengal. At the celebrations which saw the presence of a crowd of 20 thousand faithful, together with the Archbishop of Calcutta Thomas D’Souza, the local bishop Msgr. Clement Tirkey and other bishops of nearby dioceses were attended by the superior general of PIME, Father Ferruccio Brambillasca, and the apostolic nuncio to India and Nepal, Msgr. Leopoldo Girelli.
«One hundred years ago it was Father Giuseppe Antonio Lazzaroni who started a small community of believers with 20 baptisms – says Mgr. Vincent Aind, bishop of nearby Bandogra also involved in the celebrations -. Eventually he discovered many other Catholics who had come to work on the tea plantations. They had received the faith already in Chota Nagpur thanks to the Belgian missionaries, in particular Father Constant Lievens. Here, in the tea plantations, they had preserved the faith despite there being no churches, priests and sacraments. Father Lazzaroni was manna from heaven for them.”
The fruit of that seed is the current diocese of Jalpaiguri which today has 150 thousand Catholics, 73 diocesan priests, 30 religious men and 20 nuns. 90% of Catholics are still tea plantation workers. The bishop Msgr. Clement Tirkey tells AsiaNews: «On the occasion of the centenary we celebrated a liturgy in the cathedral with the superior general of PIME and the apostolic nuncio and people prayed for PIME’s mission throughout the world. Our people expressed gratitude to the missionaries for all they have done for the diocese of Jalpaiguri.”
A seed that today is bearing fruit 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 – said Father Brambillasca – many young Indian missionaries currently work in different parts of the world announcing the good news to those who do not know Christ. This is the sign of a Church that does not limit itself to welcoming, but is also capable of sharing with people the needs of the world and of the universal Church.”
«For this reason – concluded the superior general of PIME – I pray to God that the diocese of Jalpaiguri also be a source of missionary vocations for the universal Church and at the same time I ask God to accompany this diocese so that in its pastoral activities it never forgets the missionary dimension of the Church. Every local Church would lack an essential characteristic of its existence if it did not have the missionary dimension.”
For his part, the apostolic nuncio Msgr. Girelli, thanking the local Church for its testimony, added: «It is interesting to note that your diocese has a diversified culture, with large indigenous tribal communities, such as the Oraon, the Mundas, the Kharia adivasis, the Santhal, the Boros, the Garos, the Nepalese, the Rabha, the Toto and the Lepcha, each of whom has their own customs, languages and cultures. I hope and pray that this celebration will give a new impetus to your journey towards the path of the Lord and to a renewed life of testimony to Him.”