Diocese of Baruipur
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Population

The total population numbers around 8,890,000 people, of whom 85 percent live in villages. The small urban part of the diocese, only 10 percent of its area, is concentrated in a narrow belt that borders the Hooghly River. Most of the people are dalit, belonging to groups at the bottom of the traditional Indian caste system. Youths below the age of 20 dominate the population. Tribal people account for about 2.2 percent of the population.

Language

Bengali is the common language.

History

The first missionary to land in the region of the present diocese was a Spanish Carmelite Father in 1840 at Koikhali, now in the parish of Raghabpur. At the time, the area was under the Apostolic Vicariate of Bengal, with its headquarters in Kolkata. But Koikhali had no priest from 1847. Belgian Jesuits came to the region in 1859, and Jesuit Father Goffinet, remembered for living a saintly life, went to Koikhali in 1868. Pioneering Jesuit missionary Father E. Delplace established five mission stations from 1873 to 1877. In 1886, the vicariate was elevated to become Calcutta archdiocese. Local missionary work received a boost when Yugoslav Jesuit priests took charge of 24 Parganas, then a single district, in 1925. After World War II and independence, Indian priests took over the missions. Baruipur became a separate diocese, with Jesuit Bishop Linus Nirmal Gomes its first bishop, on Nov. 19, 1977. Bishop Gomes resigned due to ill health on Oct. 31, 1995, and Bishop Lobo succeeded him on Jan. 29, 1998.

Geography

The diocese covers 10,568 square kilometers, of which 3,075 is forest land. It is located in the southern part of West Bengal state, comprising the whole of South 24 Parganas district with its 3, 470 villages, six municipal towns and 32 non-municipal towns,as well as small parts of Kolkata and North 24 Parganas district. Two parishes are in Kolkata. Shaped like an irregular rectangle about 120 kilometers north-to-south and 90 kilometers east-to-west, the diocese serves the Indian part of the Ganges delta. State Highways 1 and 3 run through this district, as does the Eastern railway line. Ferry services also are an important mode of transportation in this district.

Economy

People depend mainly on agriculture. Rice is the main and often the only crop, although 35 percent of the population own no land and only 4 percent own more than three acres. Due to salinity of the soil, and poor drainage and irrigation facilities, yields are low and usually only once a year. It is said that ponds outnumber houses in every village, and many villagers grow fish. They also cultivate vegetables and fruit.

No major industries have been established in the diocese. People go to Kolkata to work. Thousands of commuters earn their livelihood there as fruit and vegetable vendors, office or factory workers, traders etc. Kolkata offers advanced medical care and education opportunities.

Baruipur is a small town of about 50,000 people situated 25 kilometers south of Kolkata, accessible by rail and road. Kolkata dominates many aspects of local life. Baruipur and Diamond Harbour, near where the Hooghly meets the Bay of Bengal, are the main towns. Bakkhali, 130 kilometers from Kolkata, is the second most important beach in the state.

The area is endowed with great natural beauty, which attracts a lot of tourists. Important tourist spots are: Falta, Nurpur, Raychak, Diamond Harbour and Bakkhali. However, an inadequate communications infrastructure has limited the potential for tourism.

Ganga Sagar or Sagardwip, where the Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal, is considered one of the holiest sites to Hindus. The annual three-day Ganga Sagar mela (festival), held in mid-January, attracts millions of devotees. Sajnekhali bird sanctuary has exotic species of birds. Sunderbans is a part of the world's largest delta, consisting of the mouths of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. Sunderban national park has an area of 1,330 square kilometers and has been recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO. It is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger.

Education

70% literacy rate

Church

Though there are many priests from the southern state of Tamil Nadu and a few from tribal groups in neighbouring Jharkhand state, most priests working in the diocese today are local. The diocese has stopped taking priests from southern India and is promoting local vocations. Most Catholics are local Bengalis, while others come from the Khariya, Munda and Santal tribal communities. Two-thirds of the Catholics live within a radius of 20 kms from Baruipur town, and 13 of the 21 parishes can be reached by road within an hour.

The diocese focuses on faith formation and also gives importance to the education apostolate by running schools and hostels. Formation of laity and having laypeople take on responsibilities are priorities. The patron of the diocese is the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Meetings are held with members of other Christian Churches and denominations, and other religions to maintain cordial relationships. The diocese has not expreinced problems with the government or religious extremists.