regular-article-logo Sunday, 14 April 2024

Tribute to priest who worked for tribal land

Father Lievens is known not only for spreading Christianity in the region, but also for establishing the traditional rights of the group

Achintya Ganguly Ranchi Published 24.03.21, 02:15 AM
Christians at the Jamgain village for remembering Father Constant Lievens.

Christians at the Jamgain village for remembering Father Constant Lievens. Manob Chowdhary

The Ranchi archdiocese remembered Father Constant Lievens, one of first Belgium Jesuit priests who came to Chotanagpur for preaching, at a programme organised at a nearby village on Sunday.

Father Lievens who came to Ranchi 136 years ago is known not only for spreading Christianity in the region but also for working for establishing the traditional rights of the tribals over their land.


The programme was organised at Jamgain village, about 15km away from Ranchi, where Father Lievens reached on March 19 in 1885, the same year the Roman Catholic Church started its activities in Chotanagpur.

“He had first reached Jamgain and stayed there for a few months trying to learn the local language and customs but later shifted to Torpa (60km from Ranchi, now in Khunti district) as the condition was not favourable for working at Jamgain,” informed auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, explaining why they organised the programme there.

“Besides his missionary work, Father Lievens also worked for our ancestors and freed them from the bondage of landlords,” said Archbishop Felix Toppo who, along with Bishop Mascarenhas, led the rosary procession and presided over the Eucharist that day.

“We are still here (with our land in possession) because of him,” added the local MLA of Khijri Rajesh Kachchap while paying tribute to Father Lievens.

Finding that forced labour, indebtedness and usurping of tribal land was rampant in the region, Father Lievens had realised that protection of the land of the Mundas was the need of the hour. He started defending the cases of the Mundas whose land was taken away by deceit before the British judges, emphasising the importance of their unwritten customary law.

“It was due to such efforts initiated by him that protective laws such as the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act was eventually implemented,” the Archbishop further said.

When the Mundas found that Father Lievens worked for their cause, they became interested in the Church and started embracing Christianity.

He was made the director of the mission and shifted to Ranchi in 1888 so that he could work more conveniently.

But the priest who had by then had tuberculosis was shifted to Darjeeling by the end of 1891. But he returned to Ranchi only to find soon that tuberculosis relapsed.

He was finally sent back to Belgium, expecting he would recuperate after proper treatment there but Father Lievens died in 1893 when he was just 37 years old.

But his work among the tribals had a great impact in the region, so much that over 73,000 of them had become Christians by the time the priest left Ranchi.

“He is fondly remembered as the Apostle of Chotanagpur and the process for his beatification has already begun,” Bishop Mascarenhas informed, adding declaring him as a saint was under consideration in Rome.

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