Catholic Church leaders endorse pro-poor agenda

Shillong, April 6: Leaders of the Catholic Church of the Northeast have endorsed the pro-poor stance of Pope Francis, while vowing to vigorously pursue social outreach programmes in the region.

"Our educational services and social outreach programmes are expressions of the Church's belief that there exists an undeniable link between our faith and the poor," Archbishop Dominic Jala of the Shillong Archdiocese said in Agartala this week.

Archbishop Jala called it a "link" the Church in the Northeast would "vigorously pursue".

He was chairing a meeting of the North East Regional Bishops Council, held at the bishop's house in Agartala from April 2-4. The prelate is also the chairman of the council.

The Catholic Church, since 1890, has been at the forefront in promoting social service, especially in the areas of healthcare and education.

Soon after getting elected as the 266th successor of St Peter, Pope Francis, the erstwhile cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, made known his affection for the poor and led by example by preferring an austere life to the charm surrounding the supreme pontiff.

Archbishop Jala also touched upon the development that surrounded Tripura.

Referring to the changes the guests saw in the capital city, he said: "Returning to Agartala after a gap of seven years, we see that substantial development has taken place in the town of Agartala. We appreciate the pro-development stance taken by the Tripura government and hope that other state governments in the region will emulate the emphasis on development that is visible here."

The bishops' council also discussed matters pertaining to the practice of Christian faith in the region, besides those of Church administration and governance, council secretary bishop John Thomas of Itanagar diocese said. The half-yearly meeting of the council saw full attendance with prelates from all the dioceses participating in the two-day event.

The dioceses of Jowai and Diphu, that are awaiting the announcement of their bishops, were represented by diocesan administrators Fr Hilarius Lamare and Fr John Timung respectively.

Archbishops emeriti Joseph Mittathani and Thomas Menamparampil and bishop emeritus Robert Kerketta also attended the meeting, taking the total number to a record 18. Agartala bishop Rev. Lumen Monteiro, who hosted the meeting, called the presence of the northeastern Church hierarchy in Tripura "a blessing to our land" and said it would bring about "greater unity among the dioceses of the region."

It was the second time that the council met in Agartala. The first time was in 2006 when the diocese of Agartala held the decennial celebrations of its coming into existence.