Thousands attend Varanasi bishop’s ordination

Varanasi (Story By: Ajesh Biju IMS – Matters India): Thousands of people cutting across religions on August 24 attended the ordination of the third bishop of Varanasi, the Catholic archdiocese with its headquarters in the eternal city of Hinduism.

As Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio ordained Monsignor Eugene Joseph as the bishop of Varanasi the church bells at the venue, St Mary’s Cathedral, chimed in tune with the temples of the city as Christians, Hindus and Muslims watched

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, Archbishop Albert D’ Souza of Agra were the other consecrating prelates. Bishops from 27 dioceses along with hundreds of priests and nuns from Varanasi and neighboring districts participated in the Episcopal ordination and installation of the new bishop.

Varanasi diocesan chancellor Fr. William Fernandez read the Pope’s letter of appointment before the ceremony began.

the papal bull (an apostolic letter of appointment in Latin from Pope Francis, which called the bishop to Episcopal ministry).

The previous day, the bishop-elect took a solemn oath of fidelity that he would emain faithful to his responsibilities, teach sound doctrines concerning the faith to the people, and impart sound moral principles to those under his care.

In his homily, Cardinal Gracious stressed that a bishop should care not for the materially poor but for those marginalized psychologically, spiritually and socially. “Today the mother church has entrusted a responsibility upon bishop Eugene to collaborate with other faiths to foster fellowship, brotherhood and peace and harmony in the holy city Varanasi,” he added.

Bishop Eugene was honored at function after the ordination Mass. The nuncio, while wishing the newly elected bishop, said Bishop Joseph has shown that he is willing to sacrifice his time for the people of Varanasi and take the diocese to new frontiers with zeal and confidence. Archbishop D’Souza, who is the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, wished the new prelate every success in his efforts.

In a press release Bishop Eugene explained his vision to work together with people of all religions in the area.

He says the Church in Varanasi exists in “the very heartland of Hinduism” and Indian culture. “Hence it has to respond to the Christ’s call to be the salt of the earth.”

Underscoring that everyone is a pilgrim on this earth with other people, he says the Church considers as “very import” its relationship with other religions. “They are the homes of the Spirit, receptacles of the Word of God to which we must lovingly and respectfully be open.”

The new bishop expressed the gratitude that his diocese has many religious congregations, men and women, who are commited for the spiritual well being of the people at large. “We need to safeguard the value of human life in the face of a growing culture of exclusion and inequality. We must pay heed to the outcry of the fragile and the defenseless. We hope more priests, religious and many people of good will from every walk of life would be prepared to serve this great need – to proclaim God’s love by serving our neighbors and take care of Mother Earth, our Common Home.”

Bishop Joseph was born on July 31, 1958, at Rajakamangalam, Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, a south Indian state. He was ordained a priest for Varanasi diocese on April 10, 1985.

He obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Nagpur University, Maharashtra and a Bachelor of Education Degree from Gorakhpur University, U.P.; a Master’s Degree in English from Mahatma Gandhi K.V. University, Varanasi, U.P.; a Master’s Degree in Business, Administration & Management from Townsend School of Business, New York, USA. He speaks English, Hindi and Tamil.

He has worked for 30 years in the diocese in various capacities. He started as an assistant parish priest, teacher, students’ warden, assistant rector in Minor Seminary, principal of schools, parish priest, director of Regional Pastoral Centre and Kala Kendra, director of St. Mary´s Hospital and founding Director of St. Mary´s School of Nursing, Finance Committee member, Dean, Vicar General, Secretary of Education Society/

Until recently he was the Diocesan Administrator. Several people in the diocese say that they have found him as a dynamic person who easily makes friends with all he meets. He comes across as someone who has transcended boundaries, they noted.

Varanasi diocese was carved out of Allahabad as the suffragan diocese of Agra archdiocese in 1970. It serves millions of people in multifarious ways in collaboration with various religious orders.

The diocese comprises of the civil districts of Bhadohi, Jaunpur, Azamgargh, Ballia, Ghazipur, Mau, Chandauli and Varanasi within 21,296 square kilometers in Uttar Pradesh state.

The diocese has 44 parishes, 38 educational institutions, 24 dispensaries, eight special schools (for the blind, hearing-impaired, the mentally-challenged) and five hospitals. The diocese, considering the uniqueness of its location, has also set up five Catholic ashrams (spiritual centers), where people follow Indian methods of prayer and meditation. Catholics are 18,454 in a population of around 31 million.

The diocese is served by 186 priests of whom 53 belong to different religious orders. Seven religious brothers and 450 nuns work in the diocese. The diocese has also its minor seminary known as Masih Gurukul in the same premises of St Mary’s Church, Pratabpura, that was vandalized on April 16.

Varanasi, the foremost Hindu spiritual center on the banks of the Ganges River, is about 780 kmsoutheast of New Delhi. Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Jains live together in the city.

The cathedral church, blessed on February 11, 1993, is one of the unique places of worship in Varanasi. The Bible exhibition running in its basement, throughout the year, draws people of other faiths. Hindi, Urdu and Bhojpuri are the main spoken languages in this area. Dialect Bhojpuri is mostly spoken in rural areas.

One of the chief characteristics of Varanasi is where Hindus come to take a ritual bath in the Ganges River on prescribed days, believing that such actions will wash away their sins and give them liberation from sansara, the cycle of birth and rebirth.

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