History of sylhet Diocese
Sylhet was erected as a Diocese on 30 September 2011. Pope Benedict XVI announced it on 8 July 2011. This new Diocese consists of four civil districts covering 12,594 sq. k. m. The total population is about 10 million. There are 17,000 Catholics.
Many think that the Apostle, Thomas brought Christianity in India around the year 52. But Christianity got spread when the Portuguese merchants came in the sixteenth century. The history says that on the 1 January 1600 the Jesuit Fathers inaugurated a Church at Isoripur, under Khulna (present) diocese. The Augustinians preached Christianity in 1612 in Dhaka. At present, we have existing oldest Church at Tejgaon, Dhaka which was established by the Portuguese in 1677. Bangladesh got its independence in 1971. The territory is about 150,000 sq. k. m. The total population of Bangladesh is 150 million among them 88% are Muslims, 10% Hindus and the rest belongs to the different Tribal groups. At present there are 7 Dioceses and 350,000 are Catholics among 500,000 Christians.
During the time of British rule, the Catholics of the Tea-Estate people, Khasias and Mandi indigenous people were given service from a Parish in Assam (India). After the partition in 1947, it was not possible for a Priest to come to Pakistan from India. The entire area of Sylhet was given to the Archdiocese of Dhaka. Archbishop Graner, CSC sent Fr. Vincent Delivi, CSC to visit the area and see what the Archbishop had inherited. Fr. Delivi toured the vast area and found, he reported 700 Catholics among the tea garden workers and the Khasia. The baptism register was copied from Assam and showed 903 baptisms dating back to 1910. Fr. Delivi was assigned to that area. He then established the first Mission in 1950 at Srimongol. He built a house there and named that ‘Rat Hole’. He toured the area often on foot. For him it was difficult to travel in the hilly area. He tried to make friends with the Tea Estate managers in order to have access to the villages and the people. Fr Delivi celebrated the first Mass in the new parish in 1952 in Burmacherra Tea Estate. On the following year (1951) the second Parish was established in Mugaipar, now it is under the Oblate Fathers.
Fr. Delivi literally wore out his knees with the difficult walking and was later somewhat crippled. A long era of almost 40 years began with the ariival in Srimangal of Fr. Joseph Voorde, csc and Fr. Joseph Lehane, csc and the establishment of a parish. The compound housed very little, including no church, because the paish was ‘Mobile’ going to the people. Fr. Voorde basically looked after the parish and Fr. Lehane toured. Fr. Lehane baptized himself in all those years thousands of the people.
There was a vast territory under Parishes of Srimangal and Mugaipar. It was split in 1975 when the Oblate Fathers took over and established Khadim. At that time, Diocesan Fathers too were working in St. Thomas’ Church, in Sunamgonj district. The Archdiocese entrusted St. Thomas parish of Mugaipar to the Oblates in 1979. Soon after the arrival of the Oblates in greater Sylhet, they expanded their work of evangelization to different areas and thus established different parish/mission centre. In the beginning of their mission in Sylhet, they lived in a rented house but they later built the parish and residence at Khadim Nagar. Parishes/missions established by the oblates are; De Mazenod Church, Khadim Nagar (1975), Immaculate Conception Church, Lokhipur (1981), St. patrick’s Church, jaflong (2002), Divine mercy Mission, Borolekha (2010) and St. Anthony’s Church, Rajai.
There are 7 Parishes in the Diocese of Sylhet. At the moment there are six Parishes under the Oblate Fathers and one Parish under the Holy Cross Fathers. There are 10,000 Catholics under Srimongol Parish under the Holy Cross Fathers. There are three male and five female congregations who are serving this diocese. The Priests and religious are all together about 45. This new Diocese has 2 local priests and the Archdiocese of Dhaka gave two more local priests to serve this Diocese.
The Catholics of this Diocese are simple, poor but strong in faith. The majority of them are very devoted and practicing Christians. They are very close to the Church. They have great love for the Church and are respectful to the Priests and Religious. Many are very active in the Church activities. They are very hospitable people. All are very happy to be the part of this new Diocese. There is a big possibility for evangelization especially among the Hindus of the Tea-Estates.