Our Beginnings in Simdega, North India

 For many years we have desired to be present among tribal Christians of North India.  Our community of Simdega in the State of Jarkhand is the realization of this desire.  It is not yet a definitive foundation as we lack little sisters in the region at the moment.  But it opens our heart to another reality of our people and we hope to have a permanent presence there.

The Catholic Diocese of Simdega was established in 1933.  It is part of the territory of Ranchi where we had a community at the time of our beginnings in India in the 50’s.  It is in the eastern part of the country toward the north, in the State of Jarkhand which used to be called Bihar before.  The district is quite large, about 3,761 km2 with a population of 556,880 of which only 43,000 live in the city.  The majority are Christians.  Priests and religious work at development while also announcing the Gospel.  All the social services (education, health, or others) are for everyone, no matter their caste, religion, or class.  There are about 40 missions, each made up of 10-40 villages.  There is usually a church in the center and all around there are schools, clinics, and boarding schools for children.  The priests are often alone and isolated and need to let lay catechists help them and keep them informed.  These lay catechists take care of the spiritual needs of the people and know everything that is happening.

There are quite a few different tribes in Jarkhand and here in Simdega it is especially the Khadias, the Mundas and the Oraons.  They love to live in harmony with nature and be at peace.  It seems that they used to live in small villages but, when others arrived from different regions, life became too noisy, so they sold their land and went to live in the forest.  That’s why today we find them on what is called “common lands”.  

They cultivate rice and vegetables but there is a lack of water and there is neither irrigation nor electricity.  All work and studies must be done by the light of day.  That’s why life begins early in the morning.  The crops depend on the rain, but they have year-round work: in summer they harvest the fruit of the‘mahuwa’, and the kushum trees and all year long they collect wood for the fire.  In summer they also dry some grains and green leaves for food.  We try to dry peanut leaves to make soup in the winter.  There are few means of transport for going from the city to the villages.  The poor manage and have few needs, but there are some privately owned cars for responding to emergencies and necessities.  

Today, when we come from elsewhere, we perhaps see all that is lacking but we also truly see lots of changes because the Church has played a great role in education and health:  many have work and where we are we find some people living in very good conditions.  The Christians of the different tribes have a common feast day, the “Navakhani”, the offering of the first fruits.  At the Eucharist they offer the new rice and they share with their neighbors or members of their family.  We also received our part.

We have discovered here a people of great simplicity, very hospitable, slow and calm.  It is easy to build relationships with them and our charism seems well adapted.  Our form of life seems something natural to them; these are values they understand and live themselves.  They are still not too influenced by the city.  In the last six months, we visited three “missions” but not the villages which are quite remote.  In Simdega we visited many places and families.  Whether in the market or walking along the road, people notice us and come to speak.  There are three of us here and, as we are not yet involved in any specific work, we find it good to take time to get to know people, make connections, and welcome all those with whom we cross paths.  It is a good occasion to live our contemplative life of Nazareth because all the other congregations in the diocese are apostolic.  But we have been accepted very well.  Many ask our prayers.