During the Annual General Meeting of Catholic Association of Bengal in Kolkata on 1st September 2013, in the august presence of its Ex-Officio Chairman Archbishop Thomas D’Souza, some members drew attention to Housing for minorities, widow pension and BPL cards. Though the CAOB (the abbreviation CAB is a trademark of the Cricket Association of Bengal) President parried the queries, he has to gear himself for more such bouncers at large assemblies because CAOB claims to be the oldest laity association of India, having been established in 1911. In its Memorandum and Articles of Association (CAOB was registered on 24th July 2008 under West Bengal Societies Registration Act) strangely, there is no mention of its birthday.
CAOB’s main activities are to organize the Annual Corpus Christi Procession, Bible School, Annual Blood Donation Camps during Lent and Merit Award (to toppers in Class X and XII Board Examinations) and the once-in-a-year Educational Aid to Catholic students of Class XI.
But if it is to be remembered in letters of gold (like Abou Ben Adhem) in the Annals of Bengal, it needs to work in areas which are the crying needs of Catholics of Bengal – in education, Housing, Health and Sanitation. It should lead a Committee of like-minded groups comprising experts and sit with the Archbishop to work out strategies on Development Concept. After getting a feel of people’s pulse through administration of a well-structured questionnaire at different parishes, the following possible areas can be looked at:
• Identification of meritorious Catholic students for higher studies
• Arrangement of professional courses (Civil Service, Judicial Service, MBA, CA, Medicine, etc.) by creation of a separate fund for such courses (it has an Educational Corpus Fund which is used for the Annual One-time Merit Award and Educational Aid)
• Eco-friendly low-cost housing, thermal insulation, rain water harvesting, water recycling
• Use of non-conventional renewable energy including skylights in interior rooms to reduce electricity use during the day
• Low cost preventive health care facilities
• Assistance in obtaining
o BPL Cards
o Old age & widow pensions
o UID / Aadhar Cards
o State Assisted Scheme of Provident Fund for Unorganised Workers (SASPFUW)
Each subscriber to the scheme is required to contribute Rs. 20/-per month.
An equal amount is credited to his account by the State Government as matching contributions.
Interests are paid by the State Govt.
The amount credited to the account of the subscriber will be paid back when he attains the age of 55 years
Things would get a head-start if the Archbishop of Calcutta, in his capacity as Ex-Officio Chairman of CAOB, initiates this multi-faceted process. In doing so he would be rendering a very important pastoral service which is: “take care of my sheep, feed my lambs” as Jesus said to Peter. He would also help rediscover “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow” giving Narendra Modi a tough challenge!
In his inaugural address on March 19, 2013 the Holy Father Pope Francis appealed to all world leaders to make protection of the environment a priority, urging “all men and women of goodwill to be guardians of Creation, Protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature”. CAOB can take the lead in spreading this “goodwill” by initiating projects on sustainable development taking particular care on the preservation of nature. This process can be started from school levels with various projects on environment.
Regarding healthcare, going by the maxim “Prevention is better than cure”, cost-effective preventive healthcare alternatives should be looked at. Some of these are Yoga, Swimming, Free-hand exercise, Naturopathy and Homeopathy. Yoga and Swimming help in blood circulation, oxygen supply to problem organs and muscles, improvement of immunity and insurance against illnesses. Self-defence too is a good art for alertness and fitness in view of increased threat perception, particularly for girls, at the hands of miscreants. CAOB has a couple of reputed doctors on its Board.
For all these projects to be sustainable, active participation of each parish is a must for building up and sharing of common facilities such as practice arenas, shared cost of trainers (it is a must to hire Trained Experts), etc. Group exercises will boost good health, bonding and promote wholesome parish-wise growth. Particular care should be given to woman and girl child as they are the pillars on whom the whole edifice of family life rests. Active Listeners should be deputed at each parish / diocese to keep their ears open to the needs of parishioners and their suggestions for improved delivery of service. If all the activities are done in a planned and meticulous manner, the output will speak for itself, making CAOB a role model for many parishes in India and abroad.
Priests and nuns must enjoy these facilities – it will reduce their medical expenses and stress.
Since the name is Catholic Association of Bengal it has a lot to do for Bengal. First, its logo which is in English should also have a Bengali face say বঙ্গীয় খ্রীষ্টীয় পরিষেবা. Secondly, the perception of the Laity is CAOB is Elitist and meant only for English-speaking parishioners has to be changed. Last but not the least, it should reach out to the whole of Bengal instead of concentrating itself primarily to Kolkata.
ISAAC HAROLD GOMES * Telephone 9433060603 * E-mail: email@example.com