More than 10,000 Indian Catholics welcome new archbishop in conflict-torn Manipur — By: Catholic News Agency

The offertory at the installation Mass for the new Archbishop of Imphal Archdiocese, Linus Neli, on Dec. 8, 2023.. / Credit: Anto Akkara

Senapati, India, Dec 11, 2023 / 16:22 pm (CNA).

More than 10,000 Catholics from across the state of Manipur, which in recent months has witnessed a surge in ethnic violence between Hindus and Christians, attended the Dec. 8 installation of the new archbishop of the Imphal Archdiocese, Linus Neli.

The Imphal Archdiocese, comprising the entire state of Manipur, held a solemn service led by outgoing Archbishop Dominic Lumon with Apostolic Nuncio to India and Nepal Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli delivering a special message to the assembled, calling for unity in this time of conflict and hardship.

Outgoing Archbishop Dominic Lumon ordains the new archbishop of Imphal Archdiocese, Linus Neli, as apostolic nuncio to India as Nepal Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli looks on. Credit: Anto Akkara

Eighteen bishops from northeast India, more than 200 priests, and 500 nuns were also in attendance at St. John Bosco Parish in Senapati, a two-hour drive over mountainous terrain from the capital of Manipur.

“The Church needs a good relationship among clergy, religious, and faithful. Everyone should work together for the goodness of the Church and peace,” exhorted Lumon, who is retiring after taking care of over 100,000 Catholics in the state for 17 years.

Beginning in May, Manipur witnessed a protracted violent clash between the majority Meiteis, most of whom are Hindus, and the minority Kukis, who are Christian, that left nearly 200 dead. More than 50,000 Kuki refugees along with over 10,000 Meiteis were driven out from Kuki strongholds in the simmering violence.

Manipur, located east of Bangladesh and at the border with Myanmar, is home to 3.3 million people. For decades, members of the Meitei, Kuki, and Naga tribes have fought over land and religious differences.

Urging the Catholic community “to work and pray for peace,” Girelli in his concluding message at the end of the service expressed “concern over the unprecedented violence with dozens killed, houses destroyed, and people banished.”

Calling for efforts “to redeem peace in society,” the nuncio reminded the faithful that “peace comes with justice. Unitedly let us work together and pray for peace.”

Since the church could accommodate only over 1,000 people, the enthusiastic laypeople in their diverse, colorful tribal attire watched the two-hour-long installation service on a large screen on the adjacent grounds of St. Xavier’s College.

Despite intermittent rain turning the ground on the hill’s slope into slushy mud, the faithful stayed through five hours, enjoying a “celebration” at the conclusion with bishops, Church officials, and local legislators seated on the stage.

Dozens of animated youth performed ethnic dances in tribal attire — even the nuncio was dressed in local tribal attire amid loud applause from an excited crowd seated on graded slopes.

Tribal dancers waiting their turn at the celebration following the installation Mass of the new archbishop of Imphal Archdiocese, Linus Neli. Credit: Anto Akkara

“We shall not go away from here without invoking God’s blessings upon the people of Manipur at this critical period in our history,” Neli said in his inaugural “thanksgiving message” at the opening of the celebration.

“Let us pray for our legitimate authorities, social and religious leaders, … and all stakeholders that all may listen to God’s voice bidding us to come together and work for a lasting solution, genuine reconciliation, peace, and harmony with justice,” the 66-year-old Neli urged.

Born in the Senapati district of Manipur, Neli was ordained as a priest in 1984 and held several positions at the St. John Medical College and Hospital of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India at Bangalore, Caritas India, and as rector of the Oriens major seminary in Shillong in addition to serving in different posts in Imphal Archdiocese.

“We see this occasion as a joyous and historic day in the annals of the Archdiocese of Imphal,” Mathew Kamei said in his remarks as the president of the Manipur Catholic Association.

“We look forward to our archbishop to be decisive, firm, and at the same time kind and understanding, which is very important in the crisis that Manipur is facing, and promote dialogue to resolve the outstanding problems,” Kamei told CNA.

“Though we would have liked to hold the installation in Imphal, the present situation made us opt for Senapati, which has not been affected by the violence and made it possible for many to attend it,” Neli told CNA.

“We are happy we could attend this great event in our Church history. If it had been held in Imphal, we could not have attended it,” a senior Kuki (and Catholic) police official who fled Imphal with his family during the violence told CNA at the end of the program.

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