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Thursday, October 28 2021

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Bethany: 100 years in God’s service

Mangaluru’s indigenous, congregation of nuns, ‘Bethany’ – ‘Congregation of the Sisters of the Little Flower of Bethany’, popularly called, ‘Bethany Sisters’ is now 100 years old in service of God and humanity. This wholly indigenous congregation was founded on July 16, 1921, at Bendoor, Mangaluru by a  Mangalorean priest Rev Fr. Raymond Francis Camillus (RFC) Mascarenhas of the Diocese of Mangaluru under divine inspiration, to cater to the needs of the simple ordinary society, in recognition of the immediate needs, according to the signs of the times.  Soon, Bethany began to move to the remotest village parishes of Mangaluru and beyond. 

Presently, in 2021, a hundred years on, to the wonder of all, Bethany has grown immensely into a sturdy tree spreading its branches in 9 countries of 3 continents, Asia, Europe and Africa, from Sahara desert in Africa, Vatican City, the mid-ranges of Himalayas and the shores of  Kanyakumari, from the hills and plains.

The dedicated service of 1378 Bethany Sisters, in 26 States of India and 63 dioceses reaches the people on the margins without disparity and reservations. The achievements in the past 100 years are phenomenal, made possible only by Miracles, now a continuing journey of joy.  The sisters are a source of spiritual uplifting of the people, particularly children as they strive to live constantly to make God’s compassionate love tangible by their prayers and presence, awakening in them the spiritual quest. 

Dedicated especially to the uplifting of the girl children, women and rural poor, they walk in the footsteps of their Founder and the Pioneers to alleviate poverty and transform lives.  In the social sector, 142 Sisters with the help of 350 collaborators in the 56 centres serve with great commitment for the all-round development of 1,50,000 women, 1,13,000 children, 1,56,000 youth as  well as for the upliftment of the rural communities irrespective of religion and caste. The pandemic of Covid – 19 evoked a compassionate response from the Sisters helping thousands of migrants in their distress across India.

The Bethany Educational Society (R) (BES) was a dream project to organise the educational institutions of Bethany and be a beacon light to give fullness of life to the millions of young lives with a vast network of primary, and higher educational institutions. 185 educational institutions including two degree colleges, 35 junior colleges, 45 children’s homes for the poor, with 3500 staff members in the formal education and hundreds of non-formal education centres in the urban and village slums have given hope of a dignified life. In the health sector, trained in Allopathy, Homoeopathy, Ayurveda, Physiotherapy, to deal with the specially-abled; Bethany Sisters render their service in 4 hospitals and 45 rural village health centres to the most deserving people to whom multi-special medical care is beyond reach. Their service in the Homes of the Senior Citizens bring solace to those whose loved ones are away and need a sensitive heart and a helping hand. 

The first members were four lady teachers of St. Sebastian School, Bendoor, Flora Mathias (Sr. M. Clare BS), Marcelline Menezes (Sr. M. Martha BS), Alice Mathias (Sr. M. Lourdes BS) and Regina Gertrude Gonsalves (Sr. M. Gertrude BS). The congregation was canonically erected on July 28, 1932, eleven years after it was set up. The first Novitiate was opened on May 15, 1933, at Bendoor.  Mother Martha BS, was the first Superior General of the Infant Congregation from 1925 to 1946. Very compassionate and lovable she administered the Congregation with the guidance of the Founder. Currently, the tenth Superior General is Sr. Rose Celine BS, along with her council members Sr. Lillis BS (Asst Superior General), Sr. Shanti Priya BS,  Sr. Mariette BS,  Sr. Lilitta BS,  and Sr. Christine BS (Treasurer General) steers the affairs of the Congregation with great dedication.

Centenary Memorial Projects

The centenary year (2020-2021), was fittingly inaugurated on July 11, 2020, at the original historic convent chapel, Bendoor amidst strict Covid protocol, the landmark event was widely extolled. Sr. Rose Celine BS, the Superior General placed a high momentum on the six ongoing projects undertaken for the Centenary, briefly they are: 1. Decadal preparation made prior to the Centenary by way of spiritual rejuvenation of the Congregation. 2. Introduction of Perpetual Adoration in 2018 in response to the Last Will and Testament of the Founder. 3. Housing project on-going for 100 poor families across India by Bethany. This was highlighted by handing over keys to one family here. 4. Preparing 1000 youth for Christian leadership as ‘Bethany Champions’. 5. Launching into the pioneering ministry of combating human trafficking and unsafe migration, and reaching out to COVID – 19 pandemic victims.  6. Promoting alternative systems of medicine.

Despite the unforeseen evil pandemic the divine blessings have seen spirited and unstinted generous efforts from the members of the BS congregation in all their establishments.

Thumbnail sketch of the Founder

The Servant of God RFC   Mascarenhas (1875-1960), was born in a well known devout Konkani Christian family and was a zealous and committed diocesan priest of the Mangalore Diocese. His far-sighted vision and untiring services as a dedicated priest and Vicar General of the Diocese of Mangaluru, and as the Founder of Bethany Congregation and the Bethany Educational Society (BES) are eloquent monuments of his priestly zeal and humaneness. His services as a dedicated priest and Vicar General of the Diocese of Mangaluru are well known. He was intensely concerned with contemporary problems, particularly those of education. He was an empowered deputee to the Simon Commission, President of the Roman Catholic Provident Fund, President of the Catholic Association (CASK) and an esteemed member of the Municipal Council of Mangaluru. As the Founder of Bethany Congregation and the Bethany Educational Society, he turned the tide of times heralding empowerment and transformation of girl children, women and the rural poor. The Servant of God Raymond Mascarenhas’ holiness as a committed priest of the Diocese of Mangaluru is an inspiration to those who know him. The splendid aspects of his priestly life; his commitment to the priestly vocation with great pastoral zeal, wide vision for the Church and the society, and his sacrificial love for the poor and the neglected particularly women have left his footprints on the sands of time. Servant of God Raymond Mascarenhas is an inspiration today for all levels of people in this world. He has written many books on many subjects in several languages and was known as a ‘Media Pioneer’ in his time.

His awards and achievements are too numerous to account here. A special honour was the title of ‘Domestic Prelate’ granted by Pope Pius XII in acknowledgement of his outstanding contribution of translating the entire New Testament from the Latin language to Konkani language for the benefit of the ordinary people. He was the first one to translate the New Testament into Konkani. He composed or translated many devotional songs in Konkani. His primary “Poilem Pustak” was a great boon to the people for adult education and was ever treasured.

Msgr Fr Raymond on the  Path to Sainthood

The Catholic Church lays down strict processes following canon law, for declaring a person a ‘Saint’.The cause to sainthood can take a number of years of screening. Most Rev Dr. Aloysius Paul D’Souza was inspired and chosen by God to begin the process of the Beatification and Canonization of Msgr. Raymond F C Mascarenhas.  The cause was initiated on June 3, 2008. Beatification and Canonization of Msgr. Raymond F C Mascarenhas, as the very first declared saint of the Mangalorean Konkani Catholic community will bear fruit in time. It took more than a decade to prepare the documents to be sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. Over 3000 documents connected with the life of the Servant of God were gathered by visiting 90 archives and libraries from all over India and Rome. The vital diocesan phase has ended and sets off the keynote of the further process in Rome.  Closing of the diocesan phase of the Inquiry of the Cause of Beatification of Servant of God Raymond F C Mascarenhas, was a milestone in the history of the Mangaluru diocese on July 17, 2019, at St Sebastian Church, Bendoor. It was presided over by Most Rev Dr. Peter Paul Saldanha, the Bishop of Mangalore. The solemn ceremony signified greater hope for Mangaluru in due time having our very own official saint of the church.

The Centenary Theme, “Let Bethany grow, flower and bear fruit” is from the Founder himself, expressing his desire and aspiration for Bethany. A slew of solemn celebrations has been held in all the convents, institutions and churches connected to Bethany to celebrate this 100 years of loving Providence of God. The live telecast of the main online celebration at 9.30 am on July 16, 2021, will be an exclusive event.

This Bethany Congregation has grown into a mighty tree, sheltering needy people, spread over many regions of India and steadily moving to countries outside India to serve humanity.

During the inauguration of the Centenary Year Sr. Rose Celine BS, the head of the Congregation said, ‘Indeed for 10 decades the Almighty has nurtured the sapling of Bethany planted by SD Raymond Francis Camillus Mascarenhas tended by the flowing waters of grace and fortified by trials and tribulations’!  Bethany in unison constantly sings ‘Let it increase, flower and bear fruit’ and thank The Almighty God for the love and faithfulness that has guided for the last one hundred years. Indeed there is every reason in these times of great hardships for strong, hope and joy to dream new dreams and to bring new life in the world of today.”

With inputs by Ivan Saldanha Shet

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