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South Asia Vocations Coming from Nontraditional Catholic Communities

As religious gathered July 20-25 in Thailand for a symposium on religious life hosted by the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, religious men and women throughout the region find themselves facing new challenges to their missions.

Like the Capuchin brothers, religious throughout South Asia are seeing significant transformations that will affect the future of consecrated life. In countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the very complexion of religious congregations is changing.

“Fewer people now come from traditional Catholic pockets and more are coming from tribal and socially poor groups,” Fr. Joseph said of the situation in India.

Members of the Missionaries of Charity march toward a church on Good Friday in Kolkata, India, in this 2011 file photo. Pope Benedict XVI singled out Indian women religious to praise them for their positive role in the church in their country. (CNS photo/Rupak De Chowdhuri, Reuters)

Most new recruits joining India’s 125,000 religious men and women now come from areas where missionaries became active in the latter half of the 20th century, he said.

Only three decades ago, most of India’s religious came from pockets in Kerala, Goa, Karnataka states and cities like Kolkata and Mumbai, where Catholic communities are centuries old.

Such a demographic shift is paralleled elsewhere in South Asia.

Decades ago in Bangladesh, for example, the majority of religious came from traditional Bengali Catholic families. Today, most come from indigenous families.

“The recruits from tribal communities are increasing and those from the Bengali group are declining,” said Fr. James Clement, president of the Conference of Religious in Bangladesh.

He estimated that men and women from indigenous communities today make up 60 percent of an estimated 1,225 religious in the Muslim-majority country. People from traditional Bengali Catholic families comprise about 40 percent of the religious community. In the past, the numbers were reversed, he said.

In Pakistan, religious have traditionally been drawn from the ranks of the Goan Catholic community. Today, however, more people come from the Punjabi community, the country’s largest ethnic group, according to Kashif Anthony, of the National Commission for Justice and Peace.

Anthony said large numbers of Goan Catholics have migrated from Pakistan, which has contributed to the demographic shift.

The origins of the church in Pakistan were based around foreign missionaries. In the last decade, however, the number of foreign missionaries has dropped significantly, according to Dominican Father Pascal Paulus, president of the Major Religious Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan.



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