First Permanent Buildings Give Church More Visible Presence In Far West

2006-06-22 00:00:00

The recent blessing and inauguration of a convent and training center in the Surkhet valley marks a milestone in the expansion of the Catholic Church´s presence in western Nepal.

The newly built Navajyoti (new light) Training Center and the convent of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth are the first permanent Church buildings in this part of the country.

Maryknoll Father Jack Corcoran pioneered ministry here 14 years ago, working with people with mental illness. In 2000, Nazareth Sister Rosita Kavilpurayidathil started running training and empowerment programs, mainly for village women, using rented premises.

Painters and carpenters were still putting finishing touches on the new buildings as Jesuit Monsignor Anthony Sharma, apostolic prefect of Nepal, reached the wide valley after a two-day, 590-kilometer drive from Kathmandu.

At the inaugural Mass on the morning of June 13, Monsignor Sharma told the congregation -- 10 lay Catholics and seven Nazareth nuns -- that Sister Kavilpurayidathil and Father Corcoran took up the challenge to pave the way for further possibilities for the Catholic Church in western Nepal.

"Surkhet can even be a place fit for monastic congregations and as a gateway to other remote towns," he suggested.

After Mass, Monsignor Sharma sprinkled holy water on the two-and-a-half-floor convent building, while Father Corcoran and Father Pius Perumana, pro-prefect of Nepal, blessed the adjacent training center in the same way.

The two-floor training center, measuring 30 meters long and 15 meters wide, has about a dozen rooms, including a double-size hall on the first floor. Wide corridors and a sturdy foundation with rods protruding from the second-floor terrace, which would make it easier to add another floor, anticipate its possible conversion to a school in the future. A wall with barbed wire surrounds both buildings.

In the afternoon, the Nazareth nuns sang hymns in the presence of dozens of village women in red saris, worn for celebrations. The chief district officer of Surkhet, Surendra Poudyal, cut a red ribbon at the entrance of the training center and then went upstairs for the inaugural program, which lasted more than three hours.

Sister Kavilpurayidathil, wearing a sari made by women she helps train, told the audience, "We came to cater to women and children, but sometimes we were even accused of conversion, and I confess I even felt like leaving."

The Indian missioner went on to describe her work here the past six years. This has included 11 six-month training programs for women, street drama workshops, awareness programs and animal husbandry workshops. Women´s groups have been formed in the meantime. "We have 450 women in 24 women´s groups that having their own small credit unions. To date 238 women have gone through our six-month daytime trainings. Some others have joined knitting or handloom classes," the nun said.

Describing the center´s work with children, she said it has helped enroll 300 children aged 4-11 in local schools by teaching them basic academic skills for a year. It has established children´s peace clubs in five local schools as well as children´s savings groups and nutrition programs.

The Navajyoti center currently has 16 staff members, 14 of whom are women. Sister Kavilpurayidathil acknowledged Catholic agencies such as Misereor, the German Catholic bishops´ agency for development aid, for funds they have provided to run the programs and construct the new buildings. "We received 16 million rupees (US$229,175) and constructed these two buildings and the wall around it."

After Monsignor Sharma and Poudyal lit a multi-wick lamp, men and women from various tribal and some low-caste groups performed songs, colorful dances and educational skits. Issues presented included men taking in second wives and innocent people being killed in violence related to the Maoist rebellion.

The audience, with government officials and politicians seated among mothers nursing infants, fell silent as six small children, most of them barefoot, performed. "Our friends were dust and mud, but now we carry books to school," they sang.

Rama Pyakurel, a legal activist who provides legal aid to poor women in the area, praised Sister Kavilpurayidathil for her many sacrifices and struggles since she started her work here from a small, dark rented room. In his address he said: "You have seen women who used to close their doors and shy away from visitors now trained in Navajyoti. They perform skits, speak in public and even know agriculture techniques." Besides farming and weaving, he added, they "also solve basic law and justice issues in their communities."

Speaking with a quavering voice, Dambari Giri voice said she had not imagined she would be able to speak in public. She added that the Navajyoti training developed solidarity, such as leading women to volunteer in turns to take care of a very sick child. "We did not know what it meant to reach out to others and live in a bigger world," she said.


(Accompanying photos available at here)

Sign up to receive UCAN Daily Full Bulletin
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
© Copyright 2019, All rights reserved
© Copyright 2019, Union of Catholic Asian News Limited. All rights reserved
Expect for any fair dealing permitted under the Hong Kong Copyright Ordinance.
No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without prior permission.