Indian Catholic News

Nepal's first bishop dies

Bishop Sharma oversaw church through the nation's tumultuous history.

 
Bishop Anthony Francis Sharma cuts a cake with first communicants in Kathmandu in this 2011 ucanews.com file photo.
Kathmandu: 

Bishop Anthony Francis Sharma, Nepal's first bishop who oversaw the growth of the Catholic Church through the nation's tumultuous recent history died Dec. 8. He was 78.

Bishop Sharma was suffering from brain cancer and was undergoing treatment at Neuro Hospital in Kathmandu, reported the Apostolic Vicariate of Nepal.

"Bishop Sharma worked during the royal regime and later witnessed the political upheaval when Nepal was declared a republic. He witnessed the change of Nepal from a Hindu country to a secular state," said Father Silas Bogati, vicar general of the Apostolic Vicariate of Nepal.

His body will remain inside Assumption Church in Kathmandu for public viewing before burial in Godavari Dec. 10.

Assumption Church, Nepal's first Catholic church was built after a new constitution was promulgated in 1991 and gave Nepal's people full freedom of religion. Prior to that, Catholic services in the Hindu kingdom were held only in chapels of Catholic schools, convents and social centers.

Bishop Sharma, born in India to Nepalese Hindu parents, was ordained a priest by the Jesuits in Darjeeling in India in 1968. In 1984, he was appointed Nepal's first ecclesiastical superior. Pope John Paul II appointed him as prefect of Nepal in 1996 and he was ordained a bishop in 2007. He retired in 2014.

Bishop Sharma was close to the royal family and as a seminarian in the 1960s, taught former King Gyanendra and his brother, the late King Birendra Shah, at Jesuit-run St. Joseph's College in Darjeeling, in neighboring India.

He used his contacts to get the government to allow the Nepal Catholic Society to register as an officially recognized body in 1993 giving Catholics here a sense of belonging to a homeland where Catholics were once seen as pariahs.

Nonetheless, he also welcomed the emergence of Nepal as a republic after a special assembly voted to abolish the Himalayan country's 239-year-old Hindu monarchy and began a process of drawing up a new republican constitution following a decade-long civil war with Maoists that ended in 2006.

He propagated secularism, now enshrined in that constitution, saying, "Secularism does not mean an end of Hinduism or any other religion but means everyone is free to practice his or her belief in terms of equality with others."

He told ucanews.com that his mother, who lived her Hindu religion, taught him to respect Christianity and even when Nepal was officially Hindu, made it a point for the Catholic Church to render services freely mainly in the field of education.

"My Hindu cousins ask me why I do not speak much about Christianity. I replied that Catholics will never impose Christianity but only propose it … People have realized we are service-minded … If Catholics continue to witness with our service, we will be admired," he said in an interview with ucanews.com.

"He was a great educator. He had a heart for opening schools and imparting knowledge to Nepali people across the country," said Father Bogati. As head of the Catholic Church Bishop Sharma helped establish 23 schools.

In 1990, he founded Caritas Nepal, the social service arm of the Catholic Church in Nepal that has helped thousands of people, especially the poor and marginalized.

Catholics make up a tiny portion of Nepal's Christian population, with the majority being Protestants. The Nepal Catholic Directory counts about 8,000 Catholics in Nepal, mostly in the eastern region where parishes were set up in 1999.

Source: UCAN

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