Nepal’s first bishop appointed officially


Kathmandu : Nepal began celebrating the official appointment of its first bishop by the Vatican with the incumbent, Bishop Anthony Francis Sharma, pledging greater participation by Christians for the development of the nation.

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The 69-year-old, who was named Nepal's first bishop in February by Pope Benedict almost a year after Nepal's parliament abolished Hinduism as the state religion, was ceremonially ordained Saturday in Kathmandu's Assumption Church by the Vatican's ambassador for India and Nepal, Pedro Lopez Quintana.

Sharma, born as Amulya Nath Sharma, originally belonged to a Brahmin family who were the priests of the royal family of the former Gorkha kingdom of Nepal. He embraced Christianity at the age of four along with his mother, a widow, who converted in India's Assam district to obtain a better life for both of them.

Bishops from Hong Kong, Malaysia and Japan attended the ordainment ceremony when Quintana placed the mitre on the new bishop's head, the official ring on his finger and the pastoral staff in his hand.

The new bishop plans to devote his tenure to the education, healthcare and empowerment of women. "Education is the best means of fighting the caste system prevalent in Nepal," he said.

Sharma is also advocating that Christians join politics now that the country has "opened up".

"I do not mean a Christian party but lay Christians joining any existing party they feel welcomed in and that follows Christian principles. The Christian principle is people's welfare.

"Christians have in the past been falsely accused of conversions though our work lies in development. People who are capable should come forward from the Christian community to work for their own community and contribute to the development of the nation."

Though there are prominent Muslim politicians in Nepal, there are no representatives from the Christian community.

Only one prominent royalist politician embraced Christianity but that is regarded as more due to personal considerations.

Though Tulsi Giri, a former prime minister who was also King Gyanendra's deputy during the 15-month royal regime, converted to Christianity, he has no links with Nepal's Catholic church.

Before the pro-democracy movement of 1990, conversions were punished and even the discovery of a Bible among one's possessions was liable to be treated harshly by the authorities.

Sharma estimates that currently there are about 1 million Christians in Nepal and over 6,500 Catholic churches

The appointment of the first bishop has been hailed by the Christian community in Nepal.

"It's good news not only for Christians but for Hindus and Buddhists as well," said Fr Eusebio Gomes, a Catholic priest teaching in Pokhara city.

"Our work is in the fields of education, healthcare and supporting the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. With Nepal becoming a secular nation, the church can grow. People who come from poor and marginalised communities are helped by our work, especially women and children."