MUMBAI, India – “Strengthening family bonds” was the theme of the Golden Jubilee of St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Sambalpur on Nov. 10.
The diocese, located in the state of Odisha, was established in 1951, but the Church in the area was undeveloped, mostly serving the local marginalized Tribal community. However, the diocese experienced huge growth, leading to the designation of the cathedral in 1968.
“In this Golden Jubilee we recall the miracles that God has worked in this Chotanagpur Tribal Church. This is a time of jubilee, a time of thanksgiving,” said Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, who celebrated the Jubilee Mass.
“This little Tribal flock has so far had 23 bishops in the Church in India, hundreds of vocations to the religious life and clergy, our priests and nuns are serving all over India and abroad. God has special love for our Tribal Church, calling us to be saints. We are a church, a living witness of God’s faithfulness and love,” Barwa told Crux.
Barwa is one of those bishops – he celebrated his first Mass in St. Joseph’s Cathedral in 1985, so he felt it was significant he celebrated the Mass marking the cathedral’s Golden Jubilee.
“God has wonderful plans for me an unworthy person. God has shown his favor to me,” he told Crux.
“This is the Golden Jubilee, and the Golden Jubilee has to be celebrated with a new way of being Christian by following the Golden Rule: Do unto others, what you would want others to do unto you,” he continued.
“This Golden Rule has to be practised here and now onwards. Secondly, after cleansing the Temple, Jesus said, ‘This is a House of Prayer.’ This cathedral is a House of Prayer, the House of God, a sacred place of worship,” Barwa said.
The archbishop urged people to come to the cathedral to pray, adore God, and receive the sacraments, “so that all of us can be built up into a new church, and our life will be a new life as Christians.”
Another vocation from the cathedral parish was that of Barwa’s niece, Sister Meena Barwa.
She said the jubilee celebrations gave her a “feeling of nostalgia.”
“It was an experience of heaven today: So peaceful, with joy and holiness,” she told Crux.
“I was overjoyed for being in the company of my parents. And my uncle Archbishop John Barwa was the main celebrant,” she added.
The nun also noted her father, Ignace Barwa, was recognized during the ceremony for his role as a village catechist.
“Thank God for blessings that the parish has received,” she said.
Father Philip Kujur is a priest of the cathedral. He explained the yearlong preparations for the Jubilee celebrations.
“Preparations for the Golden Jubilee began on Nov. 24, 2018. One year of prayer and renewal was the preparation for our Golden Jubilee. We had a Golden Jubilee Candle and from Nov. 24, 2018, the Golden Jubilee Candle went to each and every family in the parish,” he told Crux.
“We have 500 families, and the candle was passed from home to home in the village, uniting the entire community in prayer. To facilitate our urban families, we had a second Golden Jubilee candle, which moved from family to families living in the urban areas of the parish,” Kujur continued.
He said the cathedral held Eucharistic Adoration every Sunday, and conducted retreats, parish renewals, and night vigils throughout the year. The cathedral also has a grotto in the Church compound, paid for with donations from the local population.
Bishop Niranjan Sualsingh of Sambalpur told Crux the Golden Jubilee “gave a huge boost to the faith of the people.”
The bishop said that in preparation for the Golden Jubilee, special emphasis was laid on ‘Strengthening family bonds” – the theme of the year – and groups visited every family, “praying with them and strengthening family life.”
“There were many groups – mothers’ groups, laymen’s groups, youth groups – many retreats were held for these groups, and also retreats for children which included special programs like Bible competitions,” he said.
The Diocese of Sambalpur is estimated to have fewer than 50,000 Catholics, making up about half a percent of the local population.
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