Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
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3/29/2011 Bhutan (AsiaNews) – Forced to pray in their homes, discriminated against in education and in public office and always closely monitored by authorities, the Christian community in Bhutan is growing. This has emerged from the recent visit of Msgr. Thomas Menamparampi, Archbishop of Guwahati (India). The prelate spoke to AsiaNews about his journey that began March 9 and ended in the last few days, where he encountered the situation of Catholics and Protestants from nine cities and villages in the country.
Msgr. Menamparampi managed to enter the small Himalayan kingdom as part of a training program for young Bhutanese, after nearly 20 years of continuous prohibitions by the authorities. His last visit to the Christian communities took place in 1993. To date, the authorities have not allowed the entry of missionaries. The country lies within the Diocese of Darjeeling (India), but the government prohibits all forms of proselytism, it has banned the construction of churches and the public in celebration of mass. To date, the only priest admitted in Bhutan is Fr. Kinley, SJ, who arranges with the permission of government training programs and education for young people, although in recent years some priests have been able to periodically officiate at private masses.
I started my journey on March 9, beginning from Phuntsholing. There were three Catholic friends with me who have been giving training to young people from Bhutan during the last few years. Our journey took us to Geddu, Thimphu (the capital), Wangdi, Tongsa, Bumthang, Mongar, Tashigang, Kanglung and Sandrup Jongkhar. We came across some two to three hundred people in little groups at some 10-15 places in different parts of the kingdom. That gave us a fairly good idea of the situation.
To begin with, I said mass for the small Catholic community at Thimphu on March 11th. They gather together quietly in a small inconspicuous hall as they used to do during the last few decades. They remembered my last visit to them some 18 years ago when Fr. Mackay, SJ, was still working in Bhutan. After his death, there has been no Catholic missionary in the kingdom. However, Bhutan, being under the care of Darjeeling Diocese, someone from there has been coming periodically to give mass to this Catholic community. In recent years it has been Fr.Kinley, SJ, who is related to the royal family of Bhutan, that comes to meet the community and celebrate the Eucharist for them. This community is considered an old group of Christian believers in the kingdom and are not disturbed by the Authorities at their quiet worship every week. They have been maintaining a low-profile image before the public from the time of the previous king. Many of them had accepted the Catholic faith when they or their parents were in Darjeeling (India). They have remained faithful. A few foreigners also join them in their worship once in a way.
The rest of the communities that I visited with my three friends were mostly of various independent Churches, often with a Pentacostal background. Everywhere we were welcomed enthusiastically, though they knew that we were Catholics and that I was an Archbishop. They were greatly edified that we had taken so much trouble to come and visit and encourage them. The altitude of many of the places we visited was about 2500 metres. It was snowing in some places. The long winding roads were exhausting and it took us some seven hours of drive every day from one place to another. That is what made them appreciate our visit all the more. Small communities of 10-20 families in each place received us warmly and wanted us to stay a longer time with them and teach them. Not all these groups are in touch with each other. At each place there were some young people to whom we had given training. These young people were our helpers at different places and it was with their help that we were able to organize our tour.