Seminarians in India need our support, says Sister Janet Fearns This is how Fr Arokiaswamy describes his parish in the Indian Diocese of Nellore in Andhra Pradesh: “We have 350 Catholic families, most of whom are illiterate, marginalised and underprivileged as the lowest-class labourers. Many families suffer from poverty, poor health and a lack of education, their children even drop out of primary school. Although the people are poor in my eight mission outstations, they are committed Catholics. Because they are so eager and faithful, I must visit them regularly. There are no proper roads to the villages, most of which are quite far from the main road and at least eight miles from the parish church.
“People have to walk a long way to the town in order to buy anything. Although a few auto-rickshaws are available, people cannot afford to use them. It costs a lot for them to come to the main parish church on Sunday. Most people are illiterate and as a result, are deprived of their rights. If people were educated, they would benefit in all areas of their lives.” The situation is no easier in the Archdiocese of Hyderabad, where Fr Mendem Bhaskar is based. He says: “At present the parish has six outstations and a Catholic population of 700 families. The Catholics are mostly middle class and labouring class who have come from faraway villages for their livelihood. Their earnings are mainly in the form of small jobs, just enough to live. There are also so many Catholics who depend on daily wages for their survival. These people struggle to live and do not have a permanent settlement.” Fr Karunakar of Nalgonda diocese summarises the situation in this way: “St Ignatius Loyola said: ‘Education is salvation.’ As half of the population of this region are illiterate, this task certainly requires a special education and attention to encourage children to go to school, but there are many dropouts, especially girls, who require an alternative opportunity of self-employment, such as tailoring and embroidery.” A common feature of these three priests is that they studied at St John’s Major Seminary in Hyderabad, one of the seminaries supported by the Society of St Peter the Apostle (SPA) in England and Wales. In fact, in addition to the individual sponsorship of student priests, the Catholics of England and Wales ensured that all 123 seminarians there could follow their preparation for priesthood.
Missio and the Archdiocese of Hyderabad and the Dioceses of Eluru, Nalgonda and Nellore have been friends for many years. The Catholics in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh are very poor, and Missio has offered a constant lifeline to the bishops, priests and religious as they struggle to support both the physical and the spiritual needs of their people. In 2008, Missio gave a total of £697,320 to these four dioceses through the APF, SPA and Mission Together. In 2009, that sum increased so that just the Archdiocese of Hyderabad alone received almost £151,000. That was repeated in 2010.
The poverty of the Church in Andhra Pradesh means that your help is essential. World Mission Sunday, the official annual outreach of the entire global Church towards its younger members in the developing countries, is crucial to nurturing the growth and maturation of faith in Jesus and his message of love. This practical solidarity in faith cuts across language, culture, gender and economic status in a cooperation that builds churches and nurtures faith.
Many mission dioceses are totally dependent on the help of World Mission Sunday if they are to create and sustain parishes such as those described above, especially where there are no missionaries who can sometimes access some funding from their own countries. Parishes served only by indigenous priests and Sisters can find life very hard without the concrete help offered through World Mission Sunday.
In Africa, which has a total of 657 bishops, 34,658 priests and 465 dioce ses, there are 248 mission stations with a resident priest and 70,805 without a resident priest and, on average, a population of 4,759 Catholics per priest. Africa has 16,654 seminarians training for the diocesan priesthood, along with 8,075 who belong to Religious Orders and Congregations.
Asia has 732 bishops, 409 dioceses, 578 mission stations with one or more priests and 40,566 mission stations without a priest living on the premises. In spite of 52,802 priests and 14,966 diocesan major seminarians and 16,331 religious seminarians, a single priest has on average 2,290 parishioners.
There is another interesting comparison: Europe has 11,848 permanent deacons, compared with 403 in Africa and 163 in Asia. It is therefore not surprising that any parish in Africa or Asia is so dependent on the work of 16,046 lay missionaries and 712,485 catechists. In spite of 238,540 non-clerical religious, 2,328 members of secular institutes, the Church extends across so vast an area that it really needs its “ordinary Catholics” to nurture each other’s faith.
World Mission Sunday is the day when, through Missio, the Church across the world reaches out in global solidarity to its younger and struggling members. It is the day when Catholics across England and Wales help the Churches of Africa and Asia in their responsibility for building faith communities. This is vital since they must also look after 16,152 health care facilities, 4,346 orphanages, 2,848 homes for the elderly and disabled, 19,020,871 primary school plus 9,875,709 secondary and high school pupils.
The money collected in the world’s parishes on World Mission Sunday is sent directly to the bishop of every mission diocese. Missio ensures that whatever is collected is sent out as soon as possible to those places where the need is greatest. The Catholics of England and Wales are among the most generous in the world but the needs are growing.
Missio has been the Catholic Church’s official support organisation for overseas mission since 1922. Raising awareness and fostering prayer and cooperation in the whole Church, Missio is the only organisation which supports every one of the 1,069 mission dioceses of the world. To find out how you can share your faith and give life through Missio, go to Missio.org.uk.