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Church In Karnataka State Determined To Have Every Catholic Child Educated

Updated: June 13, 2006 05:00 PM GMT
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Bangalore archdiocese is leading a movement to ensure that all Catholic children in the southern state of Karnataka attend school.

"No poor Catholic children from Karnataka will sit at home to nurse their younger ones or rear their cows and sheep" from this academic year, asserts Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore.

The bishop, who heads the Catholic Church in the southern Indian state as president of the regional bishops´ council, spoke with UCA News about initiatives the state´s dioceses are taking to educate poor children.

The council comprises the bishops of Bangalore archdiocese, eight Latin-rite dioceses and Belthangady Syro-Malabar diocese, all in Karnataka.

The inspiration for its education move came from the national bishops´ conference, which addressed the theme Catholic education: The Church´s concern for the marginalized at its biennial plenary assembly in February. Some 160 bishops from the country´s 158 dioceses attended the plenary, which was held in Bangalore, the Karnataka capital, 2,060 kilometers south of New Delhi.

The bishops said Church institutions have a special obligation to serve poor children and promised to ensure that Church institutions would pay greater attention to this issue.

After the plenary, the bishops in Karnataka met to seek ways to implement the plenary decision. They soon adopted projects to enroll Catholic children during the current academic year, which started May 29.

The first move was to issue a joint pastoral letter, which explained the Church´s new "policy on education," said Jesuit Father Sunith Prabhu, secretary of the regional bishops´ commission for Catholic education.

The pastoral letter, which was read in all parishes in the state during Sunday Masses in May, says the Church needs to "ensure that Catholics are not denied admission to Catholic educational institutions."

It reiterates Christians´ right to seek admission to Catholic institutions and their responsibility to fight injustice, such as the collection of "capitation fees," money charged by or given to educational institutions upon gaining admission.

"As much as possible, free education should be given to our really poor Catholic children who cannot afford to pay for their education," says the joint pastoral letter signed by Archbishop Moras.

The bishops also want to establish an "education fund" to support poor children. "At least a basic education" up to 10th grade must be given "to all our Catholic students," they said.

They pointed out that only 1 million of the state´s 56 million people are Catholics, living mostly in Bangalore and Mangalore. "We need to increase our educational effort in other parts of the state, where Catholic presence is less significant," the letter says.

Father Prabhu told UCA News June 12 that the pastoral letter was a "daring step" taken by the bishops to clarify to every Catholic the Church´s stand on education. It is up to the people "to respond to it," he added.

The bishops have shown their commitment to action, he noted, by launching schemes to get dropouts and poor children in school. He cited the Asha (hope) Children´s Sponsorship program that Bangalore archdiocese recently launched, which he said has already enrolled more than 1,000 children from the city´s streets and rural parishes in schools for this academic year.

Archbishop Moras said the fund for the project has been raised from Catholic laity in the archdiocese. For 600 rupees (US$13), a family can sponsor a child for a month.

Father Faustin Lobo, who coordinates the plan´s implementation, told UCA News the sponsored children will get school uniforms, textbooks, school fees, travel facilities, midday meals and medical aid. Besides, their parents also will receive medical help in case they face health problems.

According to Archbishop Moras, his request for sponsorship received an "overwhelming response" from rich families. People wanted to make a difference in the poor children´s lives, he said, adding that the same thing is happening in other dioceses in the state.

He asked parishes and schools in his archdiocese to identify and motivate local poor children, especially Catholics, and enroll them in Catholic schools. In villages only 20 percent of children have access to education, the archbishop observed. Many rural children spend their childhood nursing their siblings or tending cows and sheep, he added.

Father Thomas Kannankal of Belthangady Diocesan Social Service Society told UCA News that cases of children dropping out of school occur mostly among low-caste people in interior villages, where many children do not go to school at all. "Poverty, sickness, sudden death of parents, accidents and long distance to schools are some reasons" for this, the priest explained. He said his diocese has developed a local fund to sponsor the children.

According to Church information, Karnataka has some 950 Catholic educational institutions that teach about 453,000 children, including 73,000 Catholics.

END

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