Diocese of Sylhet
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Population

There is no separate political structure in the diocesan territory. There are 19 parliamentary seats for Sylhet from total 300. Citizens elect their representatives for those seats. No serious disruption of democracy is seen for the time being. Minorities can vote and take part in politics without any pressure. Sylhet city people have the opportunity to elect their mayor for the Sylhet City Corporation.

History

Sylhet was canonically erected as a Catholic diocese by Pope Benedict XVI on 8 July 2011. This new Diocese consists of four civil districts covering 12,594 sq. k. m. The total population is about 10 million. There are 17,000 Catholics.

In the 17th century there were Christians in parts of Srihotto, which comprised present-day Sylhet division covering four northeastern districts. In 1695 Father Loi Jose Anjus, an Augustinian Missionary who was the in-charge of Nagari Catholic Church in Dhaka came to Srihotto to take care of the Christians here. He died here and his body was taken to Bandel in Indian state of West Bengal. The Mission was not continued after his death therefore the number of Christians decreased here while many of them left for Bondashill and Bodorpur in India.

In 1834 Calcutta was made the Apostolic Vicariate of Bengal and the whole of Bengal, Assam and Srihotto fell under the new Calcatta Vicariate. Father Fracino and other priest in-charge of Tomilia, Golla and Commila parishes in Dhaka looked after Srihotto area from Dhaka while it was under Calcutta Vicariate.

In 1850 East Bengal became the new Apostolic Vicariate with Assam and Srihotto and the Athrenger Missionaries from France looked after the area. From 1860 to 1886 the Holy Cross Fathers looked after the East Bengal Apostolic Vicariate from Assam. From 1886 to 1889 the Srihotto and Assam were again under the care of Dhaka. Most probably the Missionaries were Portuguese.

In 1898 Assam Apostolic Prefecture was made and Assam and Srihotto were placed under the new Prefecture. The Salvatorist Missionaries looked after the area from Assam. In 1912 the Salvatorist Fathers were residing here in Sylhet and Fr. Ansger Kenisbaour SDS, Salvatorist, bought a piece of Land in Sylhet. In 1918 after the World War I, the Salvatorist Missionaries were asked to leave by the British Government because they were from Germany. From 1918 the Jesuit Missionaries worked here in Assam Prefecture from Guwahati, they all came from Ranchi in India. From 1923 the Salesian Missionaries worked here in Sylhet from Assam Prefecture.

On May 25, 1927, the Diocese of Chittagong was erected and a part of Dhaka Diocese, Sylhet and a part of Assam Prefecture created the new Diocese of Chittagong. The new Diocese was entrusted to the care of the Canadian Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross. The Missionaries used to take care of the Christians mainly Tea Estate laborers here in Sylhet from Bodorpur and Bandashill, present Agartala in India.

In 1938 the Holy Cross Missionaries rented a house and started living in Sylhet to be the Chaplain to the sisters of Congregation of Our Lady of the Mission (RNDM) working at the Government Hospital in Sylhet. The Holy Cross Missionaries from Sylhet used to take care of Garo Christians in Sunamgonj who came from Mymensingh. Father Emile Duklo, CSC was the in-charge for the Garo Community. Fr. Duklo bought a piece of Land in Sunamgonj (no existence of the land today). In 1947, after the partition of Pakistan and India, Sylhet was divided into two, Bodorpur in India and the present Sylhet in Pakistan. Sylhet remained under Dhaka Diocese of West Pakistan.

During British colonial rule, the tribal Catholics, Khasias and Garos from a parish in the Indian state of Assam were employed in tea-estates. After the partition of India in 1947, it was not possible for a priest to come to Pakistan from India. The entire area of Sylhet was given to the Archdiocese of Dhaka. Holy Cross Archbishop Graner, CSC sent Father Vincent Delivi, CSC to visit the area and see what the Archbishop had inherited. Fr. Delivi toured the vast area and found, he reported 700 Catholics among the tea garden workers and the Khasia. The baptism register was copied from Assam and showed 903 baptisms dating back to 1910. Fr. Delivi was assigned to that area. He then established the first Mission in 1950 at Srimangal. He built a house there and named that ‘Rat Hole’. He toured the area often on foot. For him it was difficult to travel in the hilly area. He tried to make friends with the Tea Estate managers in order to have access to the villages and the people. Fr Delivi celebrated the first Mass in the new parish in 1952 in Burmacherra Tea Estate. On the following year (1951) the second Parish was established in Mugaipar, now it is under the Oblate Fathers.

Fr. Delivi literally wore out his knees with the difficult walking and was later somewhat crippled. A long era of almost 40 years began with the arrival in Srimangal of Fr. Joseph Voorde, CSC and Fr. Joseph Lehane, CSC and the establishment of a parish. The compound housed very little, including no church, because the parish was ‘mobile’ going to the people. Fr. Voorde basically looked after the parish and Fr. Lehane toured. Fr. Lehane baptized himself in all those years thousands of the people.

There was a vast territory under Parishes of Srimangal and Mugaipar. It was split in 1975 when the Oblate Fathers took over and established Khadim. At that time, Diocesan Fathers too were working in St. Thomas’ Church, in Sunamgonj district. The Archdiocese entrusted St. Thomas parish of Mugaipar to the Oblates in 1979. Soon after the arrival of the Oblates in greater Sylhet, they expanded their work of evangelization to different areas and thus established different parish/mission centre. In the beginning of their mission in Sylhet, they lived in a rented house but they later built the parish and residence at Khadim Nagar. Parishes/missions established by the oblates are; De Mazenod Church, Khadim Nagar (1975), Immaculate Conception Church, Lokhipur (1981), St. patrick’s Church, jaflong (2002), Divine mercy Mission, Borolekha (2010) and St. Anthony’s Church, Rajai.

There are 7 Parishes in the Diocese of Sylhet. At the moment there are six Parishes under the Oblate Fathers and one Parish under the Holy Cross Fathers. There are 10,000 Catholics under Srimangal Parish under the Holy Cross Fathers. There are three male and five female congregations who are serving this diocese. The Priests and religious are all together about 45. This new diocese has 4 local priests and the Archdiocese of Dhaka gave two more local priests to serve the diocese.

Transportation

Sylhet is connected to all parts of the country by land and, to some extent, by air. Buses, trains, planes and private vehicles are the main modes of transport to Sylhet city. Roads and highways connect the city to towns and rural areas of the diocese.

Geography

The diocese covers a total 9,807,000 in 12,595.95 km2 (4,863.32 sq mi) land area. Sylhet Division, also known as Greater Sylhet or Sylhet region, is the northeastern division of Bangladesh, named after its main city, Sylhet. It is bounded by Meghalaya State of India on the north, Tripura State on the south, Assam State of India on the east and Dhaka division on the west and Chittagong division on the southwest.

Sylhet division is one of the most picturesque and archeologically rich regions in South Asia. Its bourgeoning economy has become a part of the attractions of the region, as landscapes are filled with fragrant orange and pineapple gardens and breathtaking tea plantations.

Demographic data

Total population is 9,807,000. Bengali people, who make up 98 percent of the country is also the dominant group. Other major ethnic groups include the Khasia, Garo, Oraon, Kharia, Munda, Santal, Hajong and Kondo. Bangla, English and a few tribal languages are used in the diocesan territory. About 98 percent Catholics in Sylhet are tribal people.

Economy

The per capita income in the diocesan territory is US$ 35 (Sylhet division). Tea cultivation is the main agricultural product and other agricultural products include rice, rubber betel-leaf, pineapple, orange etc. A tea labor’s income is US$1.5 per day.

Telecommunication

There are many cell phone service providers in addition to government and private land phone service providers. The cell phone is much used.

Education

The literacy rate in the diocesan territory is 40.66% percent.