Our Holy Farther Francis erected Sultanpet, in Palakkad district, Kerala, as a new Latin Catholic Diocese in December 2013. Why the name: Sultanpet? The Syro-Malabr diocese was created some 50 years ago in this district of Palakkad as: The Diocese of Palakkad. Therefore in order to avoid confusion this new Latin rite diocese was named as: the diocese of Sultanpet, where the new cathedral is situated in the town of Palakkad. This new diocese was bifurcated mostly from the parishes of Coimbatore (Tamilnadu). Initially there are 16 parishes of Tamil speaking people from the diocese of Coimbatore and 5 parishes of Malayalam speaking people from the diocese of Calicut. This new diocese, as you see in the map, is a border area touching both Kerala and Tamilnadu (two political States of India). This is the 12th Latin Catholic Diocese in the ecclesiastical region of Kerala and 31st Catholic diocese of Kerala (including three rites) and 167th Catholic diocese of India. By the grace of God I was consecrated and installed on 16th February 2014 as the first bishop of this new diocese: Sultanpet.
As this diocese is situated in the border area between Tamilnadu and Kerala the whole area is very dry, having scanty rainfalls- not gaining either from the north east monsoon that wets Tamilnadu or from the south west monsoon of Kerala that makes the land there fertile. For four months (February-May) in the year people of this area suffer from lack of water both for drinking and irrigation. The long-time promised water Canal, namely the Right Bank Canal of Moolathara, situated in Chittur Taluk, has not been realized by the Government of Kerala. Unlike the main land of Kerala this area is full of rocks and so the heat adds to the misery of the people.
he people in this new diocese are migrants from inside Tamilnadu, a southern state of India, some 250 years ago. As Catholic Christians they migrated to this area on account of famine in their area and settled in one place, called Kovilpalayam in Palakkad District, Kerala; a French Jesuit Missionary Fr. Francis Bavoni accompanied them in 1760. However, on account of lack of water for agriculture the people, in course of time, migrated to various parts of the neighborhood and now living in 16 Catholic parishes spread out in 33 villages. The people speak both Tamil and Malayalam; however they are still considered as migrants and Tamil minorities on the basis of language and culture.
The corporate agencies, supported by the local Government, make use of the ignorance of the minority people by purchasing their lands at low cost and make them landless. The Catholic Christians in Kerala are divided into different rites. The main ones are Syro-Malabar Christians, Syro-Malankara Christians and the Latin Catholic Christians. As the Syrian Catholics mostly inhabit in the main land of Kerala they have plenty of rain, many rivers and water tanks; and so their lands are fertile. They are also good business people with entrepreneurial. They are economically, culturally and politically powerful in this State.
They hold many important posts in the Government and so they enjoy all the privileges. Many big institutions like, schools, colleges, hospitals are run and owned by them. Therefore the usual saying that Kerala to be Gods Own Land will go well with the area where these people live. However the situation of the Latin Catholics of this is in a different situation. The Latin Catholics in this State are looked down by others as they are economically, culturally and educationally poor.
These Latin Catholics either live in the costal (Arabic Ocean) area, being mostly fishermen, or border areas between Tamilnadu and Kerala. And due to their poor economic, social and educational conditions these Catholics who follow the Latin rite, evangelized by the European Missionaries, are looked down as downtrodden. They are considered as second class citizens in the State. Still worse, the Tamil Catholics of this State of Kerala (where this new diocese, Sultanpet, extends) are in much worse condition as they are looked down as migrants and linguistic minorities and the welfare of these people are uncared and unnoticed by the ruling authorities as they are living in the border area of Kerala.
In general the people of this new diocese, Sultanpet, are of casual laborers; they spend their daily wages in food, dress and alcohol and some are even driven to drugs. Immorality among the people is very common; this leads to growth of AIDs and other sex related patients. There is no saving mentality. Hence they do not spend much for the higher education of their children. Most of the children drop out or stop with high school. Hence they are unable to compete with others in securing Governmental or institutional jobs. Most of the women go for the 100-days work of the Government scheme and earn little for their livelihood. A small number of people in this border area are tribals. They do not know of their rights in the society and correct knowledge about their development of their life.
In this poorer economical condition their faith seems to be, shallow and peripheral- seeking only favours from God and when comes to take up challenges according to the mind of the Gospel they are slackening. They are confined to practicing some age-old customs of offering sacrifices; but they do not seem to relate their Christian faith with their daily social life. They seem to forfeit their faith for the sake of holding on to their prestige and also getting some benefits from the politicians.
There is neither social service society nor any other structures to ensure social and educational developmental set ups. There is only one diocesan school and eights schools run by the sisters. There is only one ITI with only two professional courses and there is no college of art and sciences or any other professional colleges for higher education. Hence the number of school drop outs is increasing year after year. Several parishes need to be bifurcated and so need to build chapels, presbyteries social service units. There are some companies where our Catholics are not given jobs since they do not come up to the educational or professional requirement of these companies. Also girls getting married in the early years of 20 are common in this area.
Our pastoral panning committee (comprised of priests, religious and lay experts) chart out the following needs of this new diocese. The following priorities could be tabled according to their importance:
- Animation/awareness programmes in various levels and on various pastoral, spiritual and social problems.
- Creation of Basic Christian Communities (BCC), parish council, finance committee, laity committee in the parishes
- Construction of a pastoral centre.
- Creation of the social service centre through which all types of developmental programmes could be carried out.
- Construction of the Bishops House and clergy home.
- Construction of village chapels and parish churches.
- Construction of some presbyteries in order to create new Parishes communities.
- Construction of the minor seminary.
May the Good Lord, through the intercession of Our Lady of Good health, help us to be true missionaries in order to instill in the people the true values of the Gospel and thus to be true witnesses among the people of various kinds (religious, non/anti-religious, learned, ignorant and young and old).