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Nov. 7, 2016

5000 tribal migrants from Jharkhand, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh came together from different pockets of Mumbai, where they work, to celebrate their faith and the joy of being together as a community. Colourfully dressed, they made their way to the grounds of St. Peter’s Church, Bandra, to join in the celebration of the Eucharist by His Eminence Telesphore Cardinal Toppo and concelebrated by His Eminence Oswald Cardinal Gracias. The Eucharist celebrated in Hindi and a splash of the “Munda dialect”, commenced with a group of dancers, accompanied by the beat of drums, leading the procession to the Altar.   The joy of the community was palpable, evident from their vibrant responses and spontaneous greetings of “Jai Yesu”. At the time of the Liturgy of the Word, the Bible was brought to the altar in solemn procession, received by his Eminence, Cardinal Toppo and placed on the lectern, venerated and garlanded. 

Cardinal Toppo, during his homily, reminded the community of the works of the pioneers who built the Chotanagpur mission. In particular, he reminded the community of Fr. Constant Lievens SJ who was the one truly responsible for the growth of the mission. Cardinal Toppo spoke about how Constant Lievens, as a young diocesan seminarian, was inspired to work in the missions and joined the Society of Jesus as a way to serve the people of India. As a young priest, Fr. Lievens settled in a hut at Torpa, a large village 60 km south of Ranchi in November1885. At that time, there were about 59 Catholics mainly from the army. One day, a local policeman’s wife fell ill and he approached Fr. Lievens. Through medication and definitely through Fr. Lieven’s prayers, the wife recovered. The policeman, wanting to help, told Fr. Lievens that if he desired to work with this tribal community it was important that he fight for their rights.  

What Fr. Lievens discovered was a disheartening situation of forced labour, acute indebtedness and systematic land spoliation. He understood that to speak of Christ and of the Gospel had little sense and purpose if the Mundas were not first re-established in their basic rights and human dignity. He began gathering information on the tribal customary law and started defending, in the English colonial courts, the rights of those whose land had been taken away by deceit. In particular, he succeeded in having the English magistrates accept that the non-written customary law be taken into consideration when dealing with tribal cases. Repeated successes at the "white man" court of justice won him the heart of the Mundas who saw in him a "saviour" and started accepting Christianity. Many asked and received baptism. A large conversion movement was set into motion and in a short period of time almost 80,000 accepted the faith. This was truly evangelization through social empowerment and social justice. About 7 years after he started his missionary work, Fr. Lievens contracted TB and passed away in Belgium.

Cardinal Toppo reiterated in his homily his personal commitment to the people and his willingness to fight for their right and to work for their empowerment and social justice.

The Eucharistic Celebration embodied the expression of the simple faith of this growing community in Mumbai and with the gifts of bread and wine they offered themselves to the service of the Lord. The Eucharistic Celebration was brought to a close with a solemn blessing by both Cardinals and, once more, was led by the dancers and the drums to the sacristy. 

After a brief break, the Cultural Program started with a prayer dance and a Power Point Presentation of the works done in 15 Centers known as Chotanagpur Migrant Tribal Development (CMTD) Network. This was followed by the felicitation of both the Cardinals. The Cultural Program included 5 Traditional Dances representing Oraons, Khadia, Munda, Santhali, Ho and Sadri groups; a skit presented the problems faced by the Chotanagpur Tribals in Mumbai.  The very attentive audience lit up the ground with their enthusiasm, as cell phones flashed and they made sure that the occasion was captured for memory and to share.

The event concluded with a proposed ‘Plan of Action’ for both the Archdioceses (Bombay and Ranchi) so as to work effectively in the matter of Pastoral care, social, cultural and legal issues. We pray that this collaboration between these two Archdioceses will grow and prosper.

Reported by Fr. Nigel Barrett

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