Tuesday, 30 September 2003

Kathmandu(Fides Service) – Much fear but no one hurt. Recently the Catholic mission at Okhrey, Dharan, 500 km south of Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, run by the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was torched by Maoist rebels. “Despite dangers and threats, Catholic priests, religious and laity in Nepal are determined to continue their service of education” a local Church source tells Fides Service.
“At present we are concerned for our personnel working in schools and institutes of assistance who are without protection. The situation could get worse with a new outbreak of hostilities” the local source says.
The Catholic community in Nepal hopes the cease fire announced a few days ago by the Maoist rebels will hold and that it will be the first step to a peace agreement. Negotiations, opened in February this year are now at a standstill, since the new government, installed in June this year, refused to grant requests put forward by the rebels
The Catholic Church in Nepal runs 23 schools, in which most of the pupils are non Christians. Since 1993 by means of the Jesuit Refugee Service it also provides assistance for at least 35,000 refugees from Bhutan, presently in camps in eastern Nepal. At the meeting being held in Geneva, Ruud Lubbers, United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees, has announced new measures to put an end to the “totally unacceptable situation” of more than 100,000 Bhutan refugees in camps in Nepal.
In recent years Catholic missions and schools in Nepal have suffered because of the civil war between Maoist rebels and the government in which at least 8000 people have lost their lives. After receiving threats, three Catholic schools in mountain areas had to close for two years: Notre Dame School at Bandipur, St Joseph’s School and St Mary’s School at Gorkha. However, at the insistence of the parents the school reopened although the situation is still dangerous.
In Nepal Catholics are about 6000. The official Mission was established in 1983 when territory was separated from the diocese of Patna in India and was entrusted to the Jesuits. In 1996 the Mission was elevated as Apostolic Prefecture.
PA (Fides Service 30/9/2003 EM lines 35 Words: 419)