MUMBAI, India – Archbishop William D’Souza says Pope Francis’s “Church of the poor and for the poor is a hundred percent exemplified in the Archdiocese of Patna,” as it marks its 100th anniversary.
Located in northeastern India in the state of Bihar, Patna is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the miniscule Christian population – just 0.2 percent of the population – numbers at around 70,000.
“Buxar [a city about 75 miles away located in the Patna archdiocese] and Patna are basically a Dalit church, the church of the poor. These are mostly Scheduled Caste people, and downtrodden people, who have embraced Christianity and now come of age, having a respectable social standing in the larger society. Through education, healthcare and through accompaniment, they have become self-reliant and live with human dignity. They can proudly declare themselves as the followers of Jesus Christ,” D’Souza told Crux.
Dalits, or the Scheduled Castes, come from the lowest strata of Hinduism’s rigid caste system, and were formerly known as Untouchables.
“Our Church walks together with the poorest of the poor,” D’Souza said.
The first Catholics came to Patna in 1620, when Jesuit missionaries from Bengal were invited to stay for a few months by the local ruler. In 1706, Italian Capuchin friars established a mission house in the city. In 1845, the Patna Vicariate was established when Agra Vicariate was split into two. The Diocese of Patna was created in 1919 and raised to an archdiocese in 1999.
“One hundred years is a milestone for Patna. One hundred years of God’s mission being carried out,” the archbishop said. “It is a matter of immense gratitude and joy for us, that the seed sown one hundred years ago, continues to bear fruit.”
To mark the centenary, the archdiocese has worked out a pastoral plan, which was promulgated by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and president of the bishops’ conference, on Nov. 29.
“It will be our focal point for the next five years,” D’Souza said.
The archbishop looked at the growth of the Church in the region over the past hundred years, and said he was proud of how it has helped lift up India’s lowest classes.
“We are a Dalit Church, and the visibility of the Church is the growth in faith of our people, and this is our greatest joy as we thank God for His mercy and goodness for these hundred years,” D’Souza said.
“From nothingness, we have grown into a huge tree; from one diocese to six dioceses, thanks to the exceptional zeal for missions and far-sightedness of vision, patience, perseverance, conviction, enterprising spirit and the fortitude of our founders of our Patna diocese and mission. This is a magnificent moment to rejoice in the Lord. How wonderful are the works of the Lord,” he said.
Like the Church in the rest of India, the Archdiocese of Patna has a disproportionate impact on its part of the state of Bihar, especially in the areas of education, health care, social service, and humanitarian service.
The Catholic Church in Bihar has 222 educational institutions, manages 16 hospitals and 103 dispensaries and primary health care centers, and runs 55 main social service centers and hundreds of subsidiary centers.
The dioceses in the Ecclesiastical Province of Patna have special programs for the disabled, elderly, widows, orphans, abandoned women, leprosy patients, those affected by HIV/AIDS, street children, and victims of human trafficking.
“When Pope Francis says, ‘Church of the poor and Church for the poor,’ the Archdiocese of Patna resonates very well with those sentiments,” D’Souza told Crux.
“Being a missionary territory, we are predominately a church of the poor and for the poor, and all our activities in the rural areas are to emancipate and empower our people both in faith, and in human dignity and values,” the archbishop continued.
“We have very strong faith formation programs, and very strong outreach programs, without discrimination. Our social outreach and welfare programs in remote hamlets, in underdeveloped areas are absolutely without any discrimination of faith,” he said.
“Besides our educational, welfare and healthcare, the Catholic Church has been all along working to foster peace and fraternity in remote and inaccessible areas,” he added.
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