Patna, Bihar: For the small Catholic community in Bihar, the month of September has special significance. September 9 marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of Patna Diocese (now archdiocese). On Sunday, September 8, most of the churches within the Archdiocese, – which currently includes the diocese of Bhagalpur (1956), Muzaffarpur (1980), Bettiah (1998), and Buxar (2005) – will mark the occasion with special prayer services and different joyful activities. This is one event in a series of celebrations that commenced a year ago, and will end in November.
In fact, it was on September 9, in the year 1919, that the Pope Benedict XV announced the formation of the Patna Diocese. A diocese is an spiritual and administrative administrative unit of the church, placed under the stewardship of a Bishop.
While Catholics have been present in Bihar since 1620 AD. Let’s not forget that at that time, the Mughal Governor of Patna, under the Emperor Jehangir was Yunus (John) Muquriam Khan, a Catholic! This governor invited a Jesuit priest to minister to the few Catholics of Patna, and that’s how Padri-ki-Haveli in Patna City came into being, in 1620.
In 1745, Some missionaries went to Bettiah in West Champaran at the invitation of Maharaj Dhurup Singh, who gifted them land and facilities.
Even before Patna was made a diocese, Bishop Anastasius Hartmann was made the first bishop of Patna Vicariate in 1845, which later became a part of the Allahabad Diocese.
In 1919, the entire central and north Bihar territory was brought under a new diocese, Patna Diocese. The first Bishop of this newly made Diocese was Belgian Jesuit Bishop Louis Van Hoeck, of Chotanagpur Mission
“The reason for celebration is a prayerful thanksgiving to God who has given the Church and its people so many graces.” says Coadjutor Archbishop Rt Rev Sebastian Kallupura. Indeed, as it stands today, Patna Archdiocese has about 222 parishes under the six dioceses.
Reasons to celebrate
‘The Centenary Celebrations are an opportunity for all of us to re-examine our faith and our commitment to be of service to humankind. It is also an opportunity to evaluate what contribution that we, as Catholics have made to the development and progress of the State of Bihar,’ Most Rev William D’Souza SJ recently told a gathering of some 600 Catholic teachers at one of the Centenary events held at Patna.
‘The Catholic community’s contributions in Bihar have been in four key areas: education, health care, social service, and humanitarian service,’ notes historian and researcher Jose Kalapura SJ , “Diocese and religious orders together run about 222 schools and 6 colleges, while the catholic laity run at least 75 private schools, together educating some 3 lakh and more students,” he says.
‘If we talk about health-care, in one way or another the dioceses and religious orders are managing some 16 hospitals, 103 dispensaries and primary health care centres besides providing mobile health care services to a large population in Bihar,’ Dr Jose noted.
The third most important contribution is social service, managed under diocesan social service centres and other congregations at Patna, Buxar, Muzaffarpur, Bettiah, Purnea and Bhagalpur: over 55 social service initiatives are in operation. These area gain linked with humanitarian service catering to differently-abled persons, aged persons, widows, orphans, abandoned women, leprosy patients, those affected by HIV/AIDs, the delinquents, street children, trafficked women, and so on.
Celebrations so far
Several events have been incorporated into the year-long centenary celebrations. It began with a 24-hour adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in churches on September 8 last year, in a spirit of humble thanksgiving and dedication of the centenary to God.
A grand culmination of the Year of the Word with a three-day Bible Mahotsav in October was the first mega event of the Centenary Year. It had one simple purpose: to emphasize that the word of God and the teachings of Jesus Christ are the core of Catholic life and teaching.
‘If the Church and its people have been instrumental in the positive development of Bihar, it is because of the simple philosophy: Love of God is love of neighbour,’ said a Catholic person at the event.
Last November saw the official inauguration taking place at the Kurji Parish, where the Apostolic Nuncio (the papal representative in India) along with six bishops attended a special Mass and cultural event, attended by a thousand people.
There have been a series of meaningful events that have followed throughout the year: General Assemblies for Catholic Laity institutions, retreats and renewals for clergy and religious; retreats for the laity at deanery levels; A series of three separate felicitation ceremonies for Heads and administrators of educational institutions, teachers, and catholic students; another felicitation for Vocations of Bihar at Mokama; and so on.
The Parish level celebrations in September will be followed by a felicitation for Catholics in Social Work; A Mahila Sangh convention, and a Krus Vir mega rally in October.
The closing celebrations are slated for the 29th of November in the form of a mighty thanksgiving Mass for Catholics, to be attended by over 40 Bishops from all over India, to be followed by a civic reception.
This September in Patna Archdiocese, is a time to reflect on what being a Catholic means, to rejoice in the goodness of God and the many blessings we have received as individuals, as a community and as a church, and to remember with gratitude those who have gone before, those priests, religious, and lay people who have laid down their lives for the good of the people.