Diocese of Raiganj
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In a land area of 8,920 square kilometers, the diocesan territory covers three civil districts of North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur and Malda in the central region of India's West Bengal state. Major cities in the diocese are Malda (the third biggest town in W. Bengal), Raiganj, Islampur, Balurghat. Important rivers are: Mahananda, Nagar, Kulik, Atari, Kalindi.

Raiganj is located on the banks of Kulik River. It is the headquarters of North Dinajpur district. Raiganj is an important centre for agriculture trade and jute exports. Rice milling is a flourishing industry.

Islampur, lying on the Kolkata - Siliguri highway, is another important town in the North Dinajpur district. It is a centre of silk cloth cooperatives and most families in the district are involved in this trade.

South Dinajpur district is a small district in terms of area and population.

Balurghat, the headquarters of South Dinajpur district, is the main trading centre in this district. An 18th century brick temple of the Dinajpur Raj is found in the small town of Tapan. National Highway No. 34 runs through the diocese.

Malda town, the headquarter of Malda district, is an important trading town. It is a natural port at the confluence of the Mahananda and Kalindi rivers. Malda witnessed three glorious periods under the Buddhist palas, the Hindu Senas and the Muslim Nawabs. It was known as the English bazaar since the British established a factory here in 1771. It is known for the famous Fajli mango orchards.

The low lying marshy tracts of Beels is a paradise for birdwatchers. A large number of migratory birds are attracted towards the marshes here between Novembers - February.

The third largest concentration of Muslim monuments in West Bengal is found in Pandua.

In the small village of Ramkeli the great religious reformer Sri Chaitanya meditated under a tree. Festivities are held annually here to commemorate the arrival of Sri Chaitanya.

A huge mosque with 44 spires covered with intricate gold work is at Baroduari.

Territorially the area touches Bangladesh.

Population


In Raiganj diocese, the population is 7,261,145 in 2005. (The population of the whole country is about 1.2 billion). Most residents are Bengali dalits. Catholics are mostly tribals belonging to the communities of: 1. Santal, 2. Oraon and 3. Munda

Language


The languages used in the diocesan territory are Bengali, tribal dialects of Santhali, Sadri, Oraon, Mundari and Hindi.

History


The diocese of Raiganj is located in the Eastern Indian state of West Bengal. It was erected on June 8, 1978.

Prior to World War 1 a lot of missionary activities were taking place among the Santal tribals. Many Santals were migrating from their native Santal Parganas and Krishnagar areas to various parts of Dinajpur district, now in Bangladesh.

Jesuit Father L. Knockaert S.J., who was based in Purenea of Bihar state, was a pioneer missioner among the Santals. He frequented the Santal settlements near to Kishangunj and built a chapel in Majlispur in 1925.

In the same year the first contingent of the Sicilan Jesuit province arrived in India. The Maltese Jesuit Father A. Debono and the two scholastics, who had arrived, were appointed at Majlispur. The missionaries worked hard to free the Santals from the clutches of the moneylenders and ensure social freedom. By 1929-30 they built here the presbytery, convent and hostels for the children.

In 1930 the Sisters of Charity of Saints Bartholomea Capitanio and Vincenza Gerosa (SCCG) arrived to work in the mission. This was the first mission in this area. Gradually other missions were opened to evangelize, catechize and develop the Santal converts of this region.

Whereas the Jesuit Fathers labored in the northern part of the present diocese, the Italian Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missionaries of Milan (PIME) pioneered in the southern part of the diocese. PIME Fathers from the present day neighboring Bangladesh frequently visited the southern area now in Raiganj diocese.

PIME Father Delforno built the first mission centre in 1911 at Lukripir village. In 1935 that mission was shifted to Alampur.

In 1952 Prefecture of Malda was formed out of Malda and a part of West Dinajpur, now in the neighboring Bangladesh, and had been entrusted to Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missionaries of Milan (PIME).

When the diocese of Dumka was formed in 1962, the area of the Prefecture of Malda was added to Dumka diocese.

In 1978 the districts of Malda and the erstwhile West Dinajpur, (now divided into two districts of Uttar Dinajpur and Dakshin Dinajpur districts), were bifurcated from Dumka and diocese of Raiganj was formed.

Jesuit Bishop Leo Tigga, who was the bishop of Dumka then, was transferred to Raiganj as the first bishop. After the death of Bishop Tigga on Jan. 29, 1986, Jesuit Bishop Alphonsus D'Souza was appointed its second bishop on Jan. 26, 1987.

Catholics are mostly tribals belonging to the communities of: 1. Santal, 2. Oraon and 3. Munda.

The diocese focuses mainly the education of the Catholic tribals, especially the primary education, social welfare like health, disaster management and forming Self-Help groups.

There is no major opposition from anti-Christian elements.

Adult baptisms do take place.

The tribal Catholics are generally simple, good-natured, devoted and cooperative.

Most priests are tribals. Missioners from the southern Tamil Nadu and Kerala state are also ministering the people. There are many local vocations. It is a growing and vibrant church. Many parishes have been built within the last 15 years and a new, big, beautiful cathedral is being built

Economy


Based on agriculture. The people cultivate: paddy, jute, mustard, wheat and vegetables. They get 2-3 crops annually. Lots of rice mills are in this area. Industrial presence is almost negligible in North Dinajpur district. Some industries are found in South Dinajpur district.

Education


People are generally poor and uneducated.

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