There’s an absolutely fascinating article over at the National Catholic Reporter website on one of the newest, rawest, and most isolated Catholic communities on earth: the diocese of Darjeeling. 30,000 Catholics spread over 17,000 square miles of Himalayan mountains.
“At Behga, a village of a few hundred souls scattered among small plots of terraced farmland, a plastic canopy flaps in the breeze, supported by large bamboo poles. This is the parish church. Under it sit over a hundred people, wrapped in thick jackets and blankets against the night’s chill, who rise as the bishop approaches. The bishop was scheduled to be here at 4 p.m. It is now 8. This is his yearly visit and at least the day is correct. The actual time of day has little meaning for this special occasion.
William Sherpa, 31, takes a cup from a tray, and as the bishop bends his head back, William pours the warm milk into the bishop’s mouth. This is the traditional greeting of the Sherpas, the storied mountain-dwelling tribe, best known in the West as guides and porters for Mount Everest ascents; many individuals, like William, also have this as a last name. They are traditionally Buddhist, and were all Buddhist for centuries. It was just 20 years ago that Catholicism began making slow inroads in the Sherpa communities of western Sikkim.
Far removed from the church’s current dilemmas with sex abuse and debates over stem cells, women’s roles, and procreation, Bishop Stephen serves on one of Catholicism’s final frontiers. Overcoming immense natural and man-made hurdles to bring the church to the people of Sikkim, this is Catholic evangelization and pastoral care in its purest and most direct form.
In 1990 Father George moved to Sikkim and started the Don Bosco School at Malbasey, which is now one of the best in Sikkim. At first, he could claim only one family of converts, but today there are over 300 Catholic families and six churches and chapels sprinkled throughout the rugged mountains and pristine valleys of his parish. “There are almost no first- or second-generation Catholics in Sikkim,” says Father George. “You’re more likely to find first- or second-year Catholics.”
It gives such perspective to get a glimpse of Catholic life where the issues that convulse us in the west simply don’t exist. A Catholic world most of us don't even know exists.