CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 8 December 2018

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Nepal mourns its first bishop

Kathmandu (UCAN): The first bishop in Nepal, Bishop Anthony Francis Sharma, died on December 8 following a battle with brain cancer.

The Apostolic Vicariate of Nepal reported that he had been undergoing treatment at Neuro Hospital in Kathmandu. He was 78-years-old.

Bishop Sharma oversaw the growth of the Catholic Church through the nation’s recent tumultuous decades. 

Father Silas Bogati, the vicar general of Nepal, said, “Bishop Sharma worked during the royal regime and later witnessed the political upheaval when Nepal was declared a republic. He witnessed the change of Nepal from a Hindu country to a secular state.” 

The public was able to pay its respects as his body lay in state at the first Catholic church built in the country, Assumption Church in Kathmandu. He was buried in Godavari on December 10.

Prior to the proclamation of the 1991 constitution, which enshrined full freedom of religion for Nepali people, Mass and liturgies were only held in chapels inside schools, convents or social service centres. 

Bishop Sharma was born in India to Hindu Nepali parents and ordained a priest for the Society of Jesus in Darjeeling, which is in Indian territory, but traditionally and culturally Nepali, in 1968. 

In 1984, he was appointed the first ecclesiastical superior of Nepal. Pope John Paul II appointed him prefect of Nepal in 1996 and he was ordained a bishop in 2007. He retired in 2014.

The bishop was close to the royal family and, as a scholastic in the 1960s, taught the former king, Gyanendra, and his brother, the late king, Birendra Shah, at the Jesuit-run St. Joseph’s College in Darjeeling.

He used his contacts to push the government to allow the Catholic Church in Nepal to register as an officially recognised body in 1993, giving Catholics a sense of belonging to a homeland where they were once seen as pariahs.

He also welcomed the emergence of Nepal as a republic after a special assembly voted to abolish the 239-year-old Hindu monarchy in the Himalayan state and begin a process of drawing up a constitution for a republic, following a decade-long civil war with Maoists forces that ended in 2006.

He promoted a secular state, now enshrined in the constitution, saying, “Secularism does not mean an end of Hinduism or any other religion, but means everyone is free to practice his or her belief in terms of equality with others.”

He once said that his mother, who lived out her Hindu faith profession, taught him to respect Christianity and, even when Nepal was still officially a Hindu theocratic state, he pointedly ensured that the Catholic Church would give its services freely, mainly in the field of education. Bishop Sharma helped establish 23 schools.

“My Hindu cousins ask me why I do not speak much about Christianity. I replied that Catholics will never impose Christianity but only propose it… People have realised we are service-minded… If Catholics continue to witness with our service, we will be admired,” he said.

“He was a great educator. He had a heart for opening schools and imparting knowledge to Nepali people across the country,” Father Bogati said. 

In 1990, he founded Caritas Nepal, which has helped thousands of people, especially the poor and marginalised.

Catholics make up a tiny portion of Nepal’s Christian population, with the majority being Protestant. The Nepal Catholic Directory counts about 8,000 Catholics—mostly in the eastern region where parishes were set up in 1999.

 

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