Bishop Anthony Sharma, Nepal’s first bishop who oversaw the growth of the Catholic Church, died on Tuesday, four days before his 78th birthday.
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 Fr Silas Bogati, vicar general.
Ucanews.com reported the bishop’s body was to remain inside Assumption Church in Kathmandu for public viewing before burial in Godavari, Nepal.
Bishop Sharma, born in India to Nepalese Hindu parents, was ordained a priest by the Jesuits in Darjeeling, India, in 1968. In 1984, he was appointed Nepal’s first Jesuit superior. St John Paul II appointed him 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.
He used his contacts to get the government to allow the Nepal Catholic Society to register as an officially recognised body in 1993, giving Catholics a sense of belonging to a homeland where they were once seen as pariahs, reported ucanews.com.
In 2008 he welcomed the emergence of Nepal as a republic after a special assembly voted to abolish the Himalayan country’s Hindu monarchy and began a process of drawing up a new republican constitution.
The bishop propagated secularism, now enshrined in that constitution, and said: “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. Even when Nepal was officially Hindu, the bishop made it a point for the Catholic Church to render services freely, mainly in the field of education.
Fr Bogati called the bishop “a great educator. He had a heart for opening schools and imparting knowledge to Nepali people across the country,” said Fr Bogati. The bishop 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 marginalised.
Nepal has about 27.8 million people. The Nepal Catholic Directory counts about 8,000 Catholics in Nepal, mostly in the eastern region where parishes were set up in 1999.