Faced with dwindling numbers, Catholic Religious congregations in West Bengal are being forced to team up and share new mission work. Sister Gracy Sundar, head of the Conference of Religious India (CRI) in the eastern Indian state, says although West Bengal has more than 1,500 Religious spread across 45 women’s and 20 men’s congregations, none have sufficient numbers to undertake new work alone. According to the provincial of the Sisters of Cross of Chavanod, one pressing need is to find people to work in English medium schools the CRI plans to open for poor tribal people living on tea estates and in Maoist-controlled areas in the state. Sister Sundar explained that English medium schools offer the only opportunity for these poor people to progress in life in India where proficiency in English assures a job and status in society. The CRI plans to open a school for Santal tribal children in Jhargram in March and the Claretian congregation have expressed a willingness to take on the initiative. Claretian superior for Kolkata, Father Michael Pandian, said five congregations have promised to provide staff and resources to start the school. Appointing Religious as teachers would minimize costs otherwise they would have to hire teachers from nearby towns who will demand higher salaries, he said. Jesuit Father Joseph Victor, who coordinates social work on the tea estates, said no single congregation can reach out to the entire area. “Therefore, we need to have more congregations working together,” he added. Sister Sundar said a team of CRI officials would visit the district in March to plan possible projects. The CRI unit also plans to open a center to coordinate inter-congregational work. The CRI is also conducting programs to help congregations get to know and interact with each other before undertaking common work, she added.
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