By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: Jesuits of Darjeeling province in India have decided to go for a sober celebration of the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola this year for local people caught in a violent civil unrest.
“This year we have decided not to celebrate the feast our founder in the usual way. We shall do so only spiritually and use the day for the hills of Darjeeling,” says a note from provincial Father Kinsley Tshering to his men.
The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) on July 31. The Spanish Basque priest and theologian founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), now the largest Catholic religious congregation for men in the world.
Darjeeling, one of the 17 Jesuit provinces in India, covers the northern hill regions of West Bengal, Sikkim and neighboring Bhutan. The Darjeeling Hills have witnessed violent protest for nearly two months for a separate state for Gorkha.
On July 27, the Gorkhaland stir completed 43 days. They observed ‘the Martyrs Day’ and paid tributes to pro-Gorkhaland activists killed in the Darjeeling hills in clashes since the agitation for a separate state began in June.
The agitators took out rallies in various parts of the hills and paid tributes to nine pro-Gorkhaland activists, allegedly killed in clashes since the agitation started on June 8.
“The people in the hills have been suffering much as you are aware of the demand for Gorkhaland. The savings from these celebrations will go towards the poor, some of whom are starving, in the hills,” says Father Tshering in his letter.
The Darjeeling provincial has sought cooperation from all his communities and superiors for a sober observation this year. “Please send your contribution to the Province Treasure in the first week of August,” his letter says.
Jesuits organize various religious, cultural and sports events to celebrate their founder’s feast. They also invite members of other religious congregations and Church leaders in their locality to their “first class feast” that comprises sumptuous meals and cultural programs.
The Jesuits have contributed greatly to the social, educational and cultural growth of Darjeeling region. The first Jesuits to arrive in Darjeeling town was a group of five led by Father Henri Depelchin in 1888. They replaced Capuchin priests of Patna Vicariate who had managed a parish, a school and a college. The Jesuits later shifted to their present headquarters at North Point.
A year later, 24 Jesuits arrived in Kurseong from Asansol, to continue their theological studies, first in temporary quarters and then in the newly constructed St Mary’s College.
The Jesuits gradually expanded to the hills and plains of north Bengal, to Sikkim, and Bhutan. In the hills, parish work was intimately linked to the schools and colleges.
The Jesuits came to the region three decades after the British introduced tea to the Himalayas around Darjeeling. They also brought migrant workers from Nepal, who eventually became the dominant group in the hills. Lepchas, a large local group, lived in far villages. Both groups would become prominent in parishes and schools managed by the Jesuits. The region became a diocese in 1963
It took 50 years for the Jesuits to move down to the plains. There, migrant Adivasi tea workers from central India had arrived around that time to work in tea estates.