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First Vatican envoy visit to Darj

Darjeeling, Nov. 13: The Pope’s emissary to India, Salvatore Pennacchio, will attend the golden jubilee celebrations of the Darjeeling diocese that kicks off tomorrow.

This is the first time a Vatican envoy would visit Darjeeling.

With the archbishop travelling to Darjeeling, the importance of the event was lost on none. “This is a big event for the community and the fact that it’s happening in Darjeeling gives it an added flavour,” said a prominent member of the community in Calcutta.

Group discussions, religious processions and a Mass led by Archbishop Pennacchio would mark the three-day event, the Yesu Khirst Mahotsav.

The Mass led by the apostolic nuncio to India and Nepal — it means he is the ambassador of the Vatican to the two countries — will be held at St Joseph’s School (North Point) grounds in Darjeeling tomorrow.

The Roman Catholic Church is credited with shaping the education system of the Darjeeling, Sikkim and Bhutan by setting up more than 50 institutions.

“The diocese of Darjeeling was established on August 8, 1962, by separating it from the archdiocese of Calcutta and joining it with the prefecture apostolic of Sikkim. The Roman Catholic Church first came to Darjeeling with the Irish Loreto Sisters in 1846,” said Father Felix Baretto, the vicar-general of the Darjeeling diocese.

In 1846, the Church was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop Hartman of the Patna Diocese and was staffed by the Capuchin Fathers, who were mostly from Italy. In 1886, the jurisdiction was transferred to the Archbishop of Calcutta and came under the care of the Jesuits from Belgium.

Across the region, the Catholics set up some of the best-known educational institutions where members of royal families from neighbouring countries read.

Schools like St Augustine’s in Kalimpong, St George Higher Secondary School in Pedong, St Xavier’s in Pakyong, Sikkim, and St Robert’s in Darjeeling function directly under the diocese.

Other Catholic institutions such St Joseph’s School and St Joseph’s College in Darjeeling are run by the Jesuits.

St Joseph’s Convent and Cluny Women’s College in Kalimpong are administered by the Cluny Sisters. Educational institutions like Loreto College in Darjeeling were also established by Loreto Sisters.

The Roman Catholics were also invited by the royal Bhutan government to run schools in the Himalayan country. The schools were later handed back to the Bhutan government. “We do not have much physical presence in Bhutan after the 1980s,” said Father Baretto.

Apart from the Belgian missionaries, the English speaking Jesuits of Upper Canada Province also came to Darjeeling in 1946.

The missionaries had started work in Kalimpong with the hope of getting into Tibet. “In the Kalimpong area, work started in 1883, when the priests from Paris settled down in Pedong with the hope of getting into Tibet via the Chumbi Valley. The Kalimpong subdivision, which was known as British Bhutan, then was attached to the Vicariate Apostolic of Lhasa and named as Southern Tibet Mission,” said Father Baretto.

The French Fathers stayed back in Pedong and handed over the charge to the canons regular of the Swiss congregation of St Maurice in 1935.

“During the three-day celebration, Monsignor Joseph Roduit, abbot of St Maurice Abbey, will be present in Darjeeling,” said the vicar- general.