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Mission unstoppable - The Church in India that just doesn’t stop growing
By John Pontifex
A CORNER of India lays claim to be the place where the Catholic Church has grown the most over the past 30 years – with more than 10,000 adult baptisms every year.
Since the 1970s, Catholics in Arunachal Pradesh state have grown from a few scattered communities to almost 200,000 in number.
And all this in a region of north east India where Catholic missionaries were forbidden for generations.
In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for suffering Christians, Bishop John Thomas Kattrukudiyil of Itanagar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh, said: “The fastest growth of the Church over the past few decades has been in this region.
“When the people hear that the bishop is coming to see them, people walk three or four days just to be there.”
Bishop John Thomas Kattrukudiyil of Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh
He explained how since the 1970s, dozens of churches had been built and that in his diocese alone the Church now runs 20 schools and three colleges.
Bishop Kattrukudiyil said the Church’s enormous growth had been possible thanks to the help of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity for suffering Christians.
The bishop continued: “Whenever I have asked ACN for help for the construction of churches, chapels, convents and presbyteries, the charity has never said no.”
“If we have got any infrastructure – churches, presbyteries, catechists etc – it is mainly because of the help received from ACN. I would say this without any hesitation.”
He explained how the Church in Arunachal Pradesh was unique, in that it spread thanks largely to lay faithful because of the ban on missionaries from outside the region.
He said it was only thanks to contact with a dynamic parish on the border with neighbouring Assam that Catholicism was able to enter the region.
The parish in Hamutty attracted visitors from Arunachal Pradesh who returned home as catechists and soon the Church spread to the point where in the early 1990s converts became government ministers and insisted that priests finally be allowed to work in the region.
The rapid growth of the Church in Arunachal Pradesh led Pope Benedict XVI to set up the two dioceses in the region, Itanagar and neighbouring Miao – both of which only formally created less than three years ago.
News of the Church’s growth in Arunachal Pradesh comes barely a year after ACN News reported on Catholicism’s boom in Assam where Bishop Thomas Pulloppillil of Bongaigaon has had up to 20,000 conversions since 2000.
Catholics in the region
Bishop Kattrukudiyil went on to explain that with its mix of almost 30 tribes – many of them racially more Mongolian than Indian – Arunachal Pradesh had ‘special’ status and that people from other Indian states could only enter with a permit.
He added: “Becoming Catholic appeals to people in Arunachal Pradesh. They like the idea of belonging to part of an international Church with such a significant presence in so many parts of the world.”
The bishop said the Church now faces the rise of the Jehovah Witnesses and other evangelical Church groups, requiring a greater emphasis on catechesis to keep people committed to Catholicism.
According to the bishop, conversions to Catholicism were significantly down on the 1980s and 1990s when they were at their peak but people retained their enthusiasm for the Church.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 45 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
For more information, please contact the Sydney office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Web: www.aidtochurch.org
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