Hello, Praise be to Jesus Christ. I am Bishop James Thoppil, from the diocese of Kohima, in the stare of Nagaland. The mission diocese of Kohima covers the entire state of Nagaland. Nagaland is one of the smallest states in the extreme Northeastern part of India, boarding Myanmar or we call Burma. Nagaland is inhabited by the people of Mongoloid race who are divided into various tribes but they are collectively known as Nagas. In Nagaland there are 16 major tribes, each tribe has its own distinct dialect, customs, and traditions. The Naga culture is rich in values, like communitarian living, hospitality, openness, hard work, sincerity, etc., although some of these values have disappeared. They are also people of great velour and courage and even today there are active movements for independence from India. They used to fight with each other and so they are also called head hunters.
Nagaland is one of the three states in India that has the majority of Christians. As early as 1847, Baptist missionaries came to Nagaland and most Nagas became Christians, unfortunately not Catholics. The majority of them belong to the American Baptist denominations. The Catholic Church came to Nagaland very late and that too one may say, by chance. You know one of the decisive battles of the Second World War was fought in Kohima, called the battle of Kohima. I am sure that some of you might have seen the movie called “Bridge on the River Quai”. The Japanese crossed over Myanmar or Burma and reached Kohima and attacked the allied military camp there. It is said that more than three thousand Allied soldiers were killed in that battle. But the allied forces with the help of the local people defeated the Japanese and thus began the allied force’s drive against the Japanese in the east. Today in Kohima there is a beautiful war cemetery maintained by the commonwealth, at the entrance of this cemetery there is a very meaningful epitaph that goes like this “When you go home tell them of us that for your tomorrow we gave our today.”
Now as a reward for helping the British during the war, the British government built a hospital for the local population called Naga hospital which is the biggest hospital in Nagaland even today. In 1948, there was no one who could run or administer such a hospital. So the Governor of Assam requested Archbishop Stephan Ferrando, a Salesian bishop from Italy, whether he could find some religious Sisters or Brothers to run the hospital. Finally, he found two sisters from Sisters of Christ Jesus from Spain, who along with Msgr. Bars, another Salesian from Italy came to Kohima in 1949 December. In fact one of the two Sisters, Sr. Guadalupe died on 17th March 2020 at the age of 97. They were strictly forbidden to preach or teach about Catholic Faith. The Sisters wrote in their memories that whenever they got a chance to move to villages they used to bury secretly crosses and medals, praying and hoping that the Catholic faith may grow. That was symbolic implanting of the Catholic faith, growing into fullness in the course of time. The Sisters left the Civil hospital in 1952 after three years of their contract since they were not allowed to preach and teach about the Catholic faith. But before they left, they reaped the fruit of their labour – they baptized few people in the hospital chapel in December 1952.
Simultaneously some men from another tribe, the Lotha tribe, who had some difference with the Baptist church, began to contact Fr. Bollini in Golaghat (Assam), and Fr. Bollini visited Lakhuti village in 1950 to open a mission centre there. There was great opposition and yet the determination of the leaders led them to build a small hut where they held their first religious service on 1st May 1951.
Today there are over 62000 Catholics in the whole diocese and evangelization is very alive and active. One of the good news and hope for the Church is that vocation to Priesthood and Religious life has taken a firm root today. We have 57 Priests and 200 Religious Sisters from different tribes of Nagaland. The new members of the Catholic Church came from non-Christians and Protestants groups despite many difficulties and opposition. There are many hurdles for the people to become Catholics. Payment of fine, ousting from the villages, imprisonment, etc. were regular events. Interestingly the threats tested the faith of the people and strengthened the Catholic Church in the long run.
When a group of five or more join the Church we request them first to build their own church. Often they build their church using the local materials like bamboos and leaves available in the village which does not last long. They have to repair and renovate the Church every year. After few years when we see that the people are well instructed in faith and are strong and convinced in faith, the diocese tries to help them to build a good and better Church, if possible a church built with bricks and cement.
A good Church is a matter of pride and necessity for them especially in the context of the vast majority of Baptists, who look down disparagingly on this small catholic community. A good church gives them identity and they use it also a multipurpose hall. Besides celebrating the Holy Eucharist whenever the priest visits the village, the church is also used by various groups – women, youth, holy childhood children, Legion of Mary, etc. for their weekly prayer meetings and gatherings. Presently there are about 256 villages with catholic communities. Many of these communities do not have good Churches.
Therefore the goal, the purpose of my Mission appeal is to build a village Church. It is a small Church, the size of which is (60x 30 sq. ft or 600sq meters) with a small Porch. The total cost of the church is about 32000 US $, it cost 30 dollars to build up one square foot built-up area. A marble slab will be displayed as a sign of gratitude. In fact with the mission appeal of 2018 from the Diocese of St. Petersburg and Palm Beach in Florida, we built a Church for the Community in Moilan. I hope to complete this project within a year. Therefore I appeal and thank you in anticipation for your great generosity.
To support the DIOCESE OF KOHIMA- INDIA, please click on the button below to donate and either select your parish in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and/or type Group 1614 in the memo box. God bless!