08 Respect you Migrants - Fr. Jerome D'Souza SVD & Yorick Fonseca

posted Aug 14, 2018, 9:39 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Aug 14, 2018, 9:40 AM ]
Passers-by at St Theresa's Church, Bandra on a Sunday evening must surely wonder at the overflowing crowd of brightly dressed young men and women attending the 4:00 pm Hindi Mass and milling about thereafter to socialise. The 2,000+ congregation that the parish ministers to weekly is comprised of members of the tribal migrant community, who come together to worship with zeal and fervour.

St Theresa's is but one of nine such centres in the Archdiocese of Bombay that cater to the spiritual and temporal needs of tribal migrants living in the metropolis. The centres are all part of a diocese-wide pastoral effort, led previously by Bishop Agnelo Gracias, and now by Bishop Allwyn D'Silva. They are knit together under the auspices of the Chhotanagpur Migrant Tribal Development Network.

Origins of Tribal Migrants

These tribal migrants come mostly from the Chhotanagpur Region of eastern India, in and around the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. Their ancestors were baptised by Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries, who also helped them obtain the legal rights to forest lands. They remained relatively poor, however, due to low forest-source or agricultural incomes.

Migration to the City

The migration of these peoples to the big cities of India, including Mumbai, started in the 1960s and slowly gathered steam. They came mostly in search of economic opportunity, as domestic maids, in construction, and other service occupations. Most had little or no education.

Living alone in the big city, often in slums or other cramped conditions, the migrants were alienated from their home family and tribal cultures, traditions and values, and from pastoral care in their native language. Though baptised, they were not readily accepted by the local parish communities.

As a result, many grew vulnerable to exploitation, got involved in illicit relationships, fell victim to other urban ills, and drifted away from the Church. They were bereft of pastoral care, were not enrolled in any parish, and had little or no opportunity to meet as a community, hear Mass in their own language, and receive the Sacraments.