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Rural work our main strength

Proper training, formation of nuns, a priority says new superior general of Indian congregation

Rural work our main strength
Sister Amala Das
Julian Das, Kolkata

January 14, 2011

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Sisters need to undergo proper training and formation to be able to meet modern challenges, says the newly elected superior general of the Daughters of St. Anne (Calcutta). Sister Amala Das was elected on Dec. 30, during the congregation’s eighth General Chapter.  The congregation dates back to 1903 when four Bengali girls formed the congregation under the direction of Jesuit Father Brice Meuleman to work for the Church in Bengal. The sisters mainly educate poor children and village girls and women. One of their main aims is catechetical work. Until 1969, the congregation was under the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and one of their helpers was Blessed Teresa of Kolkata. The congregation now has some 300 members who work through 48 houses mostly in India but also some in Bangladesh and Italy. In India, apart from West Bengal  where the congregation was started, it has now opened rural missions in Jharkhand and Orissa. Sister Das shares with how her congregation has assisted dioceses in catechetical and pastoral works in rural areas and ways to make her congregation and its spirituality relevant to modern times. Your congregation was started mainly to work in Bengal… SISTER AMALA DAS: We are relevant wherever the Church needs help in pastoral and catechetical works. There is no other congregation so much involved in pastoral programs as we do. Our congregation was formed mainly to reach out to neglected women of rural Bengal. Some villages in the state still do not have proper medical facilities. Our sisters help women start self-help groups and undertake literacy programs. Our congregation plays a vital role in addressing women’s issues. What changes has your congregation made over the years? We have brought changes in spirituality, catechizing and pastoral works in the parishes where we work. Initially, the sisters were involved only in catechetical works but in the later years, we shifted to educating the girl child. We also started social outreach programs for women. Our sisters are also involved with the youth ministry in villages and organize spiritual animation programs and vocation camps for them. Over the years, we have adapted new ways to make our work relevant to changing times. We are concentrating on women welfare. Almost all our programs aim at women and children, especially in remote areas. Your sisters mostly collaborate with priests? Do you face problems? In general, our collaboration has been quite successful and we have not come across any problem in working with the diocesan clergy or other Religious. We collaborate with them in education, social outreach programs and pastoral-catechetical works. We accompany priests for Masses in villages and help in catechizing people. During natural calamities too, we help the clergy give aid to the needy. We have learned through long years of experience to work harmoniously with the diocesan clergy and other Religious congregations. What are other challenges your sisters face? While working for the welfare of women and children, we realized it is not easy to care for them because their mindset has changed along with the times. It is a challenge for us to understand them properly and help them attain their full potential. Another difficulty is managing hostels for poor rural and tribal girls. We have managed to receive partial sponsorship for some children. Many of our sisters live in places that lack proper housing, electricity, communication and transport. We take that as a challenge and look beyond what we lack. We are happy with what we have when we compare our lifestyle with the poor. Many villagers still remember the great works of some sisters who are no more. The people remember sisters who visit families regularly and help them. We are not able to visit families as we used to earlier because of other apostolic commitments. However, we want to revive the practice since we are convinced that family visits are an important aspect of our pastoral-catechetical mission. Do you get enough vocations? On an average, about 10 girls join our novitiate every year. Though the number might look big, we want more girls to join us so that we can continue our work. What are your plans? First, we would like to adopt ways to make our congregation and its spirituality relevant to modern times. We feel the need to be conversant with the computer so that we are able to help rural women with our expertise. Second, we want to strengthen our spiritual lives to withstand the modern challenges to Religious vocation. Third, we want to focus on the ongoing formation of our sisters to help update their knowledge and serve people better. Fourth, we would like to send more sisters for higher education to equip them to face the modern world. Fifth, we want to prepare our members for their mission through proper guidance and training. Sixth, we want to prepare our sisters to take up leadership roles. IE12830.1636
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