The diocese of Miao lies in one of the most remote and inaccessible regions of India, in the state of Arunachal Pradesh in the far Northeast, a region bordering on China, Tibet and Burma (Myanmar). In fact, because it is so close to the Chinese frontier, outsiders need a special official permit to stay in the region.
The people of this region belong to 32 different minority ethnic groups and speak a range of different tribal languages. The villages are widely scattered and inaccessible, and landslides are not uncommon in the rainy season, so that the already difficult mountain roads are sometimes rendered impassable. Generally speaking, the people here derive little or no benefit from the government-run development programmes that are organised in other parts of the country. Often it is the Church alone which cares for the needs of the people, not only providing pastoral care but also opening schools, providing medical treatment and endeavouring by all possible means to compensate for the neglect and indifference of others.
Whereas religious faith seems to be fading in many parts of the developed world, here by contrast the number of Catholics is growing steadily. The people take their faith very seriously and show a deep love for the Church. New parishes are appearing all the time, and large numbers of people are seeking baptism.
(The old jeep under repair © Aid to the Church in Need)
The still youthful Sacred Heart parish in Neotan is just 49 km from the border with Burma. The parish centre is here in this large Tribal village, and the parish priest, Fr Felix Anthony describes the people as "warm-hearted, affectionate and deeply religious". He writes: "I feel blessed to be permitted to live among these dear people". The earliest members of the village to be baptised travelled soon afterwards to other neighbouring villages, passing on their faith and sharing it with others, and within five years the people in five more villages had asked for baptism. Every year the number of new Catholics grows larger and now stands at well over 600.
There are two priests and four Carmelite missionary sisters working in the parish, which has already established a school, together with a boarding house for boys and another for girls, so that children from the remoter villages can also attend, who would otherwise be too far away to be able to travel to school. In the past virtually nobody in the villages could read or write, but now these children have the chance to gain a formal education. The school already has 300 pupils.
Sunday Mass is now celebrated in six villages. Some of them are up to 27 km from the parish centre - a long way, given the difficult driving conditions. So Fr Felix has appealed urgently to ACN for help for a suitable vehicle. The car the parish currently uses is already old and almost unusable, needing repairs every couple of weeks or so and costing more and more each time. Besides, it often breaks down on the road, where there is no one to help - a very serious problem when carrying people with with life-threatening conditions to the nearest hospital, 180 km away. In such cases a breakdown can mean a loss of human life. And there is no other means of transport available to the parish. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has promised to help with a grant $14,500 to contribute towards a new vehicle.
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