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Installation of first Bishop of Sylhet
26/10/2011 Bangladesh

With several thousands of people present, including many of his Oblate brothers, Bishop Bejoy D’CRUZE was installed as the first Bishop of Sylhet on September 30.

On the previous day, Bishop Bejoy arrived at Lokhipur Mission, accompanied by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Joseph Marino, and other bishops. The faithful of Sylhet gathered at the mission long before the arrival of their new Shepherd, anxiously waiting to welcome him. Four different cultures were represented in the welcoming ceremony: Khasi, Garo, Orao and Bengalee. The faithful expressed their joy and happiness by singing and dancing. After the welcoming program the bishop was taken to the church for a prayers service including adoration and a Eucharistic procession. The faithful walked with the Eucharist carrying lighted candles.

The installation Mass on September 30 was held at the Immaculate Conception Church in Lokhipur. Nine bishops, including the Apostolic Nuncio and Archbishop Paulinus Costa of Dhaka, as well as several hundred priests, nuns, and brothers joined about 3,000 Catholics who attended what was a historic event for the local Church.

Archbishop Marino read out the Apostolic Letter from the Holy Father that canonically erected Sylhet as the country’s 7th diocese on July 8 this year. Sylhet, which covers four civil districts -- Sylhet, Sunamganj, Habiganj and Moulvibazar -- was carved out of the Dhaka archdiocese, making it a suffragan of the same metropolitan Church. “The Catholic church in Lokhipur shall be the temporary cathedral under the patronage of the Divine Mercy,” the apostolic letter said. The new diocese has seven parishes and 11 mission centers with about 17,000 mostly tribal Catholics, served by 21 priests and 33 religious.

Bishop Bejoy had served as Bishop of Khulna before his appointment to the new diocese.

“The faithful in Sylhet have waited for autonomy for so long, and today their dream has come true,” Archbishop Paulinus Costa said in his homily. “I would like to call upon Bishop Bejoy to look upon education, financial independence, participation in social activities and evangelization, as well as promoting religious vocations as the major challenges for Catholics in the diocese,” he added.

In an interview with AsiaNews, Bishop Bejoy spoke about the challenges he faces. First of all, there are big differences from his previous diocese in Khulna.

“The situation is very different, especially in terms of culture. In 2005, when I was appointed bishop of Khulna, I had a diocese that had been created 60 years earlier and so was already well established. It had a bishop’s residence, secretariat, hospitals, schools, institutions devoted to other communities. Beside, the diocese’s Catholics were Bengali, not tribal. Finally, people and other communities already knew about the diocese of Khulna, especially Muslims who respect a lot the Catholic Church and use its services, which are available to everyone.

“Here, people are tribal and I am Bengali. They do not have real schools, nor any big hospital. There are some dispensaries run by the sisters of Mother Teresa, and other small organizations that help people. We have different cultures but I have worked in the diocese in the past. Thus, I know these people and they know and trust me. They want me be to their bishop and I am happy to do it.”

He also spoke of his primary objectives: “As a bishop in a Muslim country, I want to preach the word of God, evangelize my people and let other communities know about Christ. However, evangelization is difficult and Muslims and Hindus often refuse meetings with the Catholic religion. The Catholic Church, in Bangladesh is known for its services which are open to all communities. Education will be my first goal. I also want to focus on health care: dispensaries, doctors, nurses . . . Tribal people are very poor and often cannot visit village doctors. They must be educated about health care. For this reason, I am going to ask Caritas, which is present in the area, to provide essential services.” (Fr. Pius POHDUENG; www.ucanews.com; www.AsiaNews.it)