Church Booming in India, says ACN
Catholicism in North East India - which began barely 100 years ago - is now booming with more than 50 men ordained to the priesthood every year.
Barely a century after the first Catholic missionaries arrived in the region centring on Assam, there are now 1.5 million Catholics.
Christians in general are now considered the majority in three of the eight political states that make up North East India.
The Church's expediential growth was spelled out by Bishop Thomas Pulloppillil, whose new diocese of Bongaigaon has swelled by nearly 20,000 people since his episcopal ordination in 2000.
In an interview this week with Aid to the Church in Need, the charity for suffering Christians, the bishop said that in the neighbouring state of Arunachal Pradesh on the border with China, thousands of people had defied draconian anti-conversion laws and become Christians.
In this part of India there are 180,000 Catholics out of a total population of nearly 800,000 - a vast difference from 25 years ago when there were no Catholics at all throughout Arunachal Pradesh.
In a state where a decade ago priests were still banned, the Church's growth prompted Pope Benedict XVI to decide last year to create two new dioceses.
India has witnessed some of the world's fastest-growing Catholic communities and Bishop Pulloppillil said the North East was the most exceptional across the country.
"The facts speak for themselves about how people are turning to the Church," he said.
And he went on to stress that Aid to the Church in Need had been key to the Church's growth.
He said: "If it weren't for ACN, we would not have been able to do half of what we have done so far."
ACN has given key support to help set up new parishes, with new churches, chapels, presbyteries and houses for sisters, who play an important role in catechesis as well as Mass stipends.
Now 95 percent of the seminarians are local whereas for many years they mostly came from other parts of India.
Emphasising that the Catholic Church's growth was now faster than that of other Christian groups, he put the success down to good organisation and catechesis.
Bishop Pulloppillil said this was all the more remarkable given that Protestant groups had a head start against Catholicism amounting to almost 50 years.
In this part of British India, Catholic missionaries were only allowed to enter in the1890s.
He also stressed that people in the North East had been attracted to Catholicism thanks to the role of the many Catholic schools, hospitals and clinics, established across the region.
According to Bishop Pulloppillil, there are more than 60 Catholic-run hospitals in the North East and in his diocese alone there were 36 schools
The bishop said that most people in the region were receptive to Christianity because it coincided with many aspects of local tribal beliefs, including belief in one God.
In an area with less Hindus than elsewhere in India, he said that the Catholic Church's international status was attractive to people keen to distinguish themselves from the Indian majority.
But he said that despite the vocations boom, it was still impossible to send priests as foreign missionaries because local needs remained immense.
At present, a priest serves a parish made up of 40 or more villages.
[Source: Aid to the Church in Need]