Tribal Khasia Catholics have been learning how to play a more active role in the Church, with the help of a member of their own tribe who is now a priest. Father Pascal Lyngdoh led a group of his fellow tribespeople through a workshop entitled ‘Shepherd Your Sheep and Be the Salt and Light in the World,’ held last week at the Immaculate Conception Church in Lokhipur, north east Sylhet. A total of 65 Khasia prayer leaders and 135 youths took part. They were drawn from the four parishes that constitute the new Sylhet diocese, which was established in July last year. “Khasia Catholics in Bangladesh need to realize their own identity and their important role in the Church,” said Fr Lyngdoh, an acknowledged expert in Church education who is now based in Shilong archdiocese in India’s Meghalaya state. “They have to take care of their own people because priests won’t be available all the time.” He cites language as the main challenge that Khasia people face as they try to explore their role and potential in Church activities. Only 30 percent of the population receive a formal education. “The people here speak their own dialect and don’t know much pure Khasia, or even the dominant Bengali language,” he said. Nevertheless, in his talk to the prayer leaders, he emphasized the vital necessity for them to keep the faith alive for Khasia Catholics. He went on to offer practical coaching in how to lead prayers in the absence of priests, how to encourage people to engage more in Church activities and how to maintain their bond with the Church through patient counseling rather than haranguing. Speaking to the whole group, he addressed the issue of co-habitation. It is a long standing tradition for Khasia people to live together without a Church marriage, but Fr Lyngdoh said “I invite you all to observe seriously the sacredness of married life.” The final day of the program brought the delegates an opportunity to explore liturgical music from a fresh perspective. Khasia Catholics are used to singing hymns in Bengali, even though the language is difficult for them. The workshop session showed them how to pray and sing in a way that is more lively and faithful. Father Bowel Valentine Talang, a local Khasia priest, welcomed the innovation. “As we have our own diocese now, I hope the bishop will take initiatives to integrate traditional culture in the local Church,” he said. Khasia is a densely forested, mountainous region whose people subsist mainly by cultivating betel leaf and lemons. Its tribes first embraced Christianity in 1910, with large scale evangelization taking place from the 1950’s onwards. Today 50 percent of Khasia people are Catholic. Related Reports: Drive to protect tribal people, nature https://www.ucanews.com/2012/01/18/drive-to-protect-tribal-peope-nature/ New diocese gets first prelate https://www.ucanews.com/2011/09/30/new-diocese-gets-first-prelate/ Blockade of tribal Christians ends https://www.ucanews.com/2011/06/15/blockade-of-tribal-christians-ends/
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