By Matters India Reporter
New Delhi, Jan. 6, 2019: Pope Francis on January 6 accepted the resignation of Bishop Aleixo Das Neves Dias of Port Blair, which covers the entire Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
This was announced at 12 noon in Rome and its corresponding time (4:30 pm) in India, said a statement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
Bishop Dias, a member of the Pilar Society and the first bishop of Port Blair, would have turned 75, the mandatory retirement age for a prelate, on September 5 this year.
The prelate has suffered some health problems in the past, a source close to the Church circles told Matters India.
The CBCI statement thanked Bishop Dias for his dedicated service to the Church in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Port Blair is the capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a federally ruled unit comprising 672 Islands situated in the Bay of Bengal. The archipelago covers 8,073 square kilometers and is spread over about 780 km from north to south. Only 34 Islands are inhabited.
Pope John Paul II raised the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as a diocese on August 18, 1984. Bishop Dias was ordained as its first prelate on January 20, 1985.
Bishop Dias made a mark when an earthquake and tsunami on December 26, 2004, devastated the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. About 15,000 people died in the islands alone. Nearly all churches, presbyteries, convents and schools in the Southern Group of Islands were washed away. Bishop Dias is credited with leading relief and rehabilitation works and rebuilding those structures in record time.
The diocese extends from Diglipur in the North to Campbell Bay (Great Nicobar) in the extreme south. The diocese is divided into 13 full-fledged parishes.
It has 23 diocesan priests, four congregations of men Religious and eight for women religious.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands recorded 380,581 people in the 2011 census. The majority of the population is Hindus, 69.44 percent, Christians 21.27 percent, Muslims 8.51 percent and others less than 1 percent. The number of the Catholics is 38,596 according to the annual returns of 2014, according to the diocesan website.
The territory is a mini India as its population comprises people from Bengal, Punjab, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Chotanagpur and from other Indian states.
According to historical records, the Catholic Church came to these Islands as early as 1690 when a Portuguese Franciscan of the Pegu Mission in South Burma landed at Car Nicobar. In 1711, two French Jesuits of the Pondicherry-Carnatic Mission settled at Car Nicobar, but were later killed. In 1780 the Barnabites of the Pegu Mission unsuccessfully tried to establish a mission on the islands.
In 1836, some Jesuits worked in Car Nicobar for some years and tried to put down their dialect in Roman Script. But the mission ended because of growing hatred toward the colonialists.
At the end of the World War I, the Andaman administration recruited laborers, mostly Catholics, from Chotanagpur tribal area, through the Catholic Mission of Ranchi, present Jharkhand state.
Initially the Rangoon diocese in Myanmar looked after the islands. However in 1947, Rome transferred the territory to the archdiocese of Ranchi.
Father John Decoq, a Belgian Jesuit, was the first resident Catholic priest in the territory. A new church and presbytery were blessed on December 8, 1950.
In 1964, Rome entrusted the territory with the Society of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier, commonly known as “Pilar Fathers,” a Goa-based congregation.