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The Chanda Mission

text and photos by Rev. Jacob Martin Kapiarmala, C.M.I.

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The heart of India is a challenging place. The land is barren and underdeveloped. The extreme heat of summer, which regularly reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit, further burdens the people of this region. They are a poor and uneducated people who work hard just to survive. Their hard labor earns them practically nothing.

These are the people for whom Christ brought the Good News of salvation. Yet only 26 years ago, when the mission diocese of Chanda was established, only a sprinkling of native Catholics lived here. Since then, remarkable things have happened. The Gospel is being proclaimed with vigor, and the local people are embracing the Good News.

1987 was the Jubilee Year for Chanda. At the 40 mission centers the celebration was marked with renewal programs. Priests, religious, catechists; men, women, youth, and children participated through 150 renewal programs. Along with parish celebrations, the Jubilee Year was an opportunity to promote the “seven point program” of Chanda. The final celebration earlier this year culminated in the celebration of the liturgy at the bishop’s house by four archbishops, 11 bishops, 150 priests, 300 sisters, and 3,000 lay Catholics representing the 40 mission centers.

The Chanda mission was established in central India in 1962. It consists of 20,000 square miles with a population of 47 million. At that time the only local Christians were about 600 Catholics who had come from different parts of India for factory work. They then had only three churches where a priest visiting from the Nagpur Archdiocese celebrated the divine liturgy once each month.

Indian missionaries came to Chanda from Kerala, in southwest India, where Saint Thomas the Apostle first brought Christianity to India in 52 A.D. 1,910 years later his spiritual heirs carried their Syro-Malabar Catholicism north. They had nothing in their hands, and they had to work hard. They learned the language of the people. They learned to preach the Good News about Jesus in diverse ways – ways which made use of the people’s culture.

The local people accepted the message of Jesus willingly. Slowly they became His followers. As a result, today Chanda has 21,000 new converts, 62 priests, 215 religious sisters, 60 seminarians, 65 catechists, 40 homes for needy children, 35 convents, 7 hospitals, 6 leper colonies, 13 dispensaries – even a printing press!

This growth would not have happened without dynamic and charismatic leadership. The Most Reverend Januarius, CMI, is the first ecclesiastical superior, exarch and, finally, bishop of this mission. He is a profound philosopher, original thinker, and man of vision and mission. His fresh approach to spirituality and missiology made possible the magnificent expansion of the Church in this area.

Bishop Januarius believes in the power of Jesus’ message. He says, “There is no culture or people under the sun that the Gospel of Jesus cannot change.” His approach shows that Christianity is not alien to Indian culture.

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Tags: India Christianity Poor/Poverty Syro-Malabar Catholic Church