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India

 

ACN Project of the Week – India

18.10.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Holy Cross, India, Religious men, SEMINARIANS, Youth Apostolate

ACN Project of the Week – India

Help for the formation of 23 seminarians

The Congregation of the Holy Cross was officially founded in Mans, France, in 1837. Born of a fusion between the Brothers of Saint Joseph—founded in 1820 by Father Jacques Dujarie and auxiliary priests of Mans, founded by the canon Basile Moreau in 1835. During this post-revolution era, an entire generation of young people grew up without practically any Christian or Catholic education. This community of men was thus born of a group of young men who wanted to educate youth in rural areas. The resulting religious congregation spread swiftly over 20 or 30 years, as far as Algeria, the United States, Italy and East Bengal (which now includes parts of India and Bangladesh).

Today, the congregation is present and active in 16 countries. Its religious brothers and priests are devoted to the religious instruction and general education of young people and run many schools, as they see the formation of the spirit as the essential foundation for treating pressing present-day problems.  Canadians know them well, for one thaumaturge priest, Brother André Bessette, who founded Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal in 1904. This place of pilgrimage receives approximately 2 million visitors every year.

 

Families First

The congregation is particularly active in four Indian provinces where it enjoys numerous new vocations. Indian priests of the Holy Cross Congregation are present not only in India but offer themselves at the service of the Universal Church in other countries.

These days, helping families and young people to become more deeply rooted in the Christian faith as they face consumerism and many other challenges brought about by the phenomenon of globalization. But in order to achieve this, the priests themselves must have a sound formation.

In the southern Indian province of the congregation 23 young men are currently studying for the priesthood. ACN is proposing to help them, with a contribution of $10,350. The seminarians pray for all those who are helping them. Thank you to all of you who can help monetarily, and thank you for praying for them as well.

ACN News: Religious Freedom in India

04.10.2019 in ACN Canada, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Religious freedom

Religious Freedom in India

“We are not going to give up the fight for equality, justice and fraternity”

by Matthias Böhnke, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin for ACN Canada

 

“The circumstances are difficult for the Christians in our diocese – we often come up against restrictions in the practice of our faith,” Dr Stephen Antony explained. The 67-year-old bishop of the diocese of Tuticorin in southern India and 53 other Indian bishops recently met with Pope Francis during an ad limina visit to Rome.

According to the bishop, the Indian government is working to transform this immense, primarily Hindu, country into a homogenous country with one language and one set of policies. A difficult to impossible undertaking in a heterogeneous country with 29 federal states and the second most populous country in the world at 1.37 billion inhabitants. Some forecasts even predict that India may already overtake top-ranking China next year.

 

Policies favouring the wealthy

The situation has worsened after this year’s parliamentary elections, which the nationalist governing party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi won with a surprising majority. “Our situation at the moment isn’t very encouraging. The government makes a lot of rash decisions, which makes things unpredictable. Politics only benefits the wealthy part of the population. The poor are left with nothing,” Bishop Antony deplored.

 

Project supported by ACN – Transportation for pastoral & social work, Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo at St. Charles Convent, Vilathikulam, Tutcorin Dist. – Eastern Province.

The bishop explained that about 450,000 Catholics live in the diocese of Tuticorin, which is equivalent to about 17 per cent of the population. Besides the attacks targeting the faithful and groups of pilgrims, he reported that the circumstances were becoming more and more difficult in his diocese, particularly for the hospitals and the more than 200 schools operated by the church. According to the bishop, high unemployment is a problem not only affecting teachers, but the lack of support from the government has led many of the small farmers and factory workers to feel its effects as well. In fact, Bishop Antony said, many people in the region were so desperate that they felt that suicide was the only option left open to them.

 

However, he does believe that there are signs of hope, one of which being the visit to Pope Francis in Rome. “We are not going to give up the fight for equality, justice and fraternity,” said Stephen Antony. “We hope that Hindus and Christians will soon become more tolerant of each other and that the readiness to use violence will decline throughout the country. I am deeply grateful to ACN and all the benefactors who help us meet our needs in all areas of pastoral care and accompany us in their prayers.”

India – ACN Success Story  A well for a boarding school run by Sisters

19.06.2019 in ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, India

 

India – ACN Success Story

 A well for a boarding school run by Sisters

 

The Daughters of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple are an Italian congregation, founded in the 19th century. Their particular mission is the care of children and young girls. The congregation is present today in Italy, India, Djibouti and Somalia running:  schools, boarding schools, orphanages and leprosy centres. The Sisters also provide care for the elderly.

Published on the web, June 19, 2019

The town of Dhabhagudam in the diocese of Eluru (central part of the country), India, has a boarding school run by these Sisters where they teach between 140 to 150 children who live in the remote villages of the jungle region. This is the only way these kids can possibly attend school, for the people of the region are extremely poor, often working as day labourers and living precariously from hand to mouth. Very few of them can read or write. Alcohol abuse is widespread and causes devastation in the lives of many families.

These children would be condemned to an equally precarious existence were it not for the presence of the Sisters who have given them the opportunity to attend school and to learn. The fruits of their apostolate are quite evident: falling illiteracy rates, less child labour, and a decrease in the number of child marriages. All in all, awareness is gaining ground among the people that education is the key to a better future, at least for their children.

A well for all – thanks to you!

In early days, the one and only well was supplying not only the Sisters and the boarding school with clean water, but the surrounding population as well! Above all, by the elderly in the neighbourhood who were reliant on the Sisters‘ water supply, which was becoming increasingly problematic.

Now, thanks to our generous benefactors, we were able to give $11,500 to provide the Sisters with an additional water supply. They send their heartfelt thanks to you all.

ACN News – Electoral results in India, worrying

30.05.2019 in ACN International, By Maria Lozano, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

ACN News – Electoral results in India, worrying

Elections in India

The recent victory of Narendra Modi is worrying to religious minorities

The parliamentary elections in India ended a few days ago. The nationalist ruling party BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprisingly won the world’s largest democratic election – with nearly 900 million voters. According to a source close to the Church, “the victory of Modi is a source of frustration and fear to the minorities in India.”

 

“The five years with Narendra Modi in power have brought many concerns and been extremely difficult for us. We are fearful that the next five years to come will be even worse.” This was the reaction of one source who spoke to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN, but who prefers to remain anonymous for reasons of security.

 

“The fact that the Hindu nationalist BJP party has won so overwhelmingly is a warning signal for us, since it shows that Hindu nationalism is growing and the minorities – both Christian and Muslim – often find ourselves abandoned in the face of social injustice and discriminated against even quite openly for religious reasons. But also because the Indian economy has been going downhill in recent years and the poor are now even poorer than before. The poorest classes are being overlooked and the rich are the only ones who have benefited,” the same source explained.

Manipulation of the vote

“Hindu nationalism does not want to see any changes in the social structures,” the source told the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), “and many people in India are currently living in a state of semi-slavery. Those belonging to the lowest classes are used and exploited like slave labour.” One of the few institutions striving to change this situation is the Catholic Church, “and this why we are the target of discrimination and oppression.”

 

According to the same source, many people in India are in a state of shock. “We cannot quite believe what has happened. Even in those states and districts where surveys suggested the outlook was less favourable for Modi, in the end his party gained many more seats than had been predicted.” In addition to reports in some of the media which have spoken of manipulation of the electronic voting system, there have also been allegations of vote buying. This was also confirmed by the contact who spoke to ACN. “I also saw how hundreds of destitute day labourers were called together just a few days before the elections and how they were each given 3,000 Rupees (close to $60) on behalf of the Nationalist People’s Party.”

 

ACN’s contact concluded with an appeal for prayers for his country and added, “It is very dangerous to speak against the government; almost nobody dares to do so nowadays, since they have converted themselves into an authoritarian party. But I want people to know what things are like for us, since the world needs to know that the situation is a bad one and that we are afraid. These have already been five years filled with fear, and now we are asking ourselves what the future is going to hold for us?”

 

We would like to invite you to pray for the peoples of India, for the religious minorities threatened by discrimination and persecution in certain States, and to pray for our sisters and brothers in the faith.  Amen.

 

by Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web: Thursday May 30, 2019

ACN Interview: Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, auxiliary bishop of Ranchi and Secretary General of the Indian Bishops’ Conference

18.04.2019 in ACN International, ACN PRESS, By Maria Lozano, Dalits, India, Peace, Persecution of Christians

INDIA

Rise in violent attacks against Christian minorities

 

India has just begun its electoral process, which will take place in seven separate stages between April 11 and 19 May this year. Fears that this, the most populous democracy in the world, might end up becoming a theocratic Hindu nation have strengthened recently, in light of the fact that the Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata (BJP) and its president Narendra Modi are seeking a second mandate. During its present term in office there has been an increase in interreligious violence, according to the report on Religious Freedom Worldwide by the international Catholic Pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International). The figures speak for themselves: in 2016 a total of 86 people were killed and 2371 injured in 703 separate incidents of sectarian (Hindu fundamentalist) violence; in 2017 the figures were 111 killed and 2384 wounded in 822 separate reported incidents.

 

The most recent attack –  March 26 – took place in Tamil Nadu against a Catholic school, the Little Flower Higher Secondary School in Chinnasalem, when a crowd of Hindu fundamentalists smashed up the school and even attempted to strangle the religious sisters who were running the school. ACN journalist Maria Lozano interviewed Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, auxiliary bishop of Ranchi and Secretary General of the Indian Bishops’ Conference and asked him about the elections and the gravity of this recent incident.

 

Interview with Msgr. Theodore Mascarenhas, 12.04.2019
by Maria Lozano
Published by ACN Canada April 18, 2019

ACN: We have heard of the increase in attacks by Hindu fundamentalists against religious minorities in other parts of India, especially in the north of the country, but the brutal violence of this recent incident has shocked us. Was there any particular reason for the attack?

Over the last year or so there has been a rise in fundamentalism in Tamil Nadu. Above all it has been the evangelical or Protestant so-called “house churches” that have complained of these attacks. There is an activist, who publishes on the web stories of groups of Christians being beaten up while praying in their house churches or some little church structure destroyed. But as the Catholic Church we have not had this type of open attack until this time, at least not such a big one, we have had small, small things. Two years ago there was a Good Friday incident; a mob did not allow us to worship in one place.  So we have had incidents here and there. But the Protestant churches or Protestant groups or these smaller denominations have had a lot of problems over the last two years. So it did not come to me as a surprise that eventually we would be attacked. But that it took place on such a large scale is really frightening.

 

ACN: It must also have been an enormous shock for the sisters of the Franciscan Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who have been running the school for 74 years now. What is the present situation in Chinnasalem? And how are the sisters faring?

 

It is a small town. And the sisters have been doing a lot of this work for very, very poor children. And in fact the hostel, the boarding school can take girls who come from very poor areas and poor families.

 

I spoke to the Sisters a few days ago and I spoke to the Archbishop also, and they say for the moment that some people have been arrested and we are waiting for some more people to be arrested. But for me it is not what happens after the incident. For me the whole thing we have to question is how such incidents can even come about in a civilized society.

 

ACN: But apart from the incident itself and notwithstanding the gravity of it, are you concerned about the social dimension that this kind of attack implies?

How is so much hatred being spread in society and how can we stop this hatred being propagated – that is exactly the question. There are groups that are promoting hatred and these groups are not being stopped, neither in social media nor in actual life, and they seem to be getting political privilege, patronage, and that is my worry, even political authorization, and that is my problem. It is not that these small groups make demands against us or make charges against us or accuse us. The problem is that political leaders are actually encouraging them.

 

ACN: Do you think this increase in incidents in the last year is also related to the elections?

It might be related to the elections but I think it is going long-term now. I have a very simple philosophy on this. Once you plant the seed of hatred, once you bring the beast, the animal of anger, hatred, violence, that animal cannot be controlled. And this is my worry. All those who are spreading this hatred must know what harm they are doing to society and that it will become difficult to bring back things under control; and if it cannot be brought back under control we will have a problem.

 

ACN: But this problem is already damaging especially to the minorities in India…

Yes, it is the minorities, but today I was just thinking of that beautiful poem attributed to a German Lutheran pastor: ‘First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.’ So we use this now today because first you start with one minority and then the second. the Muslims are under attack, the dalits are under attack and we are under attack, we don’t know who next.

 

ACN: Does that mean then that in the end this nationalist fundamentalism which the political leaders are promoting will actually damage the whole country?

We must say one thing in all fairness. A large Hindu majority, and a large Indian majority of whatever religion we belong to, we are tolerant, we accept each other, and we live with each other, we have been living for thousands of years together, this is a multi-cultural, multi-religious diverse society, and we’ve been living with each other and enriching each other. Now we suddenly come to a situation where certain groups are getting strong and spreading this hatred around and that is not acceptable, because eventually it is the nation that is going to suffer from this. Not just the minorities.

 

ACN: Is India heading towards becoming a theocratic nation like Pakistan?

In 1947 two countries were born, Pakistan and India. Pakistan decided that it would be a country founded on a religion, Islam; our founding fathers in India decided we would not be based on any religion or any one culture but we would be multi-cultural, pluri-religious and with diverse languages and regions. And the country has lived peacefully after that.

 

ACN: But who are these new people who want to change what the founding fathers decided, and why? 

These are certain fundamentalist groups which come up in every society and fundamentalist groups always damage society. But when they start getting overt or covert support from the others then they become dangerous.

ACN: What has been the reaction of the Christian community on hearing this news? Surely these incidents must make them feel very frightened?

We as Christians, we trust in the Lord, we are not afraid. When I asked the Sisters ‘Are you afraid?’ they said ‘No, we shall continue our work.’ I think that is our spirit, we shall continue our work, we will not be afraid of anyone. We think of Jesus who told us ‘Be afraid of the one who can take care of your soul rather than those who can destroy your body.’ So that is our basic principle. I don’t think anyone is frightened and we will go ahead with our work, we will continue serving the poorest of the poor. We know that this will bring us difficulties, this will bring us persecution, and this will bring us even hardships, but we will continue doing our work for the poor, for God and for Jesus.

 

ACN: One last question: do you believe that it is precisely the fact that you are working with the poorest and most socially discriminated against is one of the reason why some people don’t seem to like the work of the Church?

We have a saying in my own local language Konkani: ‘Stones are thrown only at a tree that bears fruit’. You don’t throw stones at a useless tree, only at a tree that bears fruit. So I think that one of the reasons we are under attack is that we are serving the poor, somebody does not like that we are serving the poor and this I believe is the real reason why the fundamentalists do not like us.

 

 

 

 

ACN Project of the Week – India

08.05.2018 in ACN Canada, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

India

Financial aid for the formation of 31 aspiring priests

Good news has come to us from the diocese of Sambalpur in the eastern Indian state of Odisha: the number of vocations to the priesthood has seen continuous growth over the last few years! This is because the diocese has launched an active vocation apostolate in the schools, introducing young people  to the idea at an early age. As part of the program, the priests read them stories from the Holy Scriptures in which someone is called by God. After the tenth grade, any boys who feel called to the priesthood then enter what is known as the “minor seminary”. For three years, while working towards their university entrance diploma, they grow into the spiritual life and examine whether this is the right path for them before enrolling in seminary.

 

At the local seminary, 31 young men are currently preparing for ordination to the priesthood. Although it is a great joy to have so many vocations, it is also a daunting challenge for the diocese as the state of Odisha is one of the most impoverished regions in the country, and Christians are one of the poorest and most disadvantaged groups of peoples. This means that the aspiring priests come from destitute families and the other members of the parish are also too poor to support them during their formation.

 

Living within a spiritual community is something that first needs to be learned

Therefore, the diocese must pay for everything the seminarians need: housing, clothing, shoes, food, medical care, educational materials… The costs are rising and the seminary is dependent upon aid from outside of the country.

It is important that the seminarians receive a good education on all levels: they should have a solid foundation of knowledge, be well developed spiritually and in prayer and have achieved a certain level of maturity. Therefore, in addition to their studies, it becomes essential that they receive help in their spiritual development and are able to establish a dynamic prayer life. However, living within a spiritual community is also something that first needs to be learned.

To gain practical experience in pastoral care, the priests in training spend their summers in different parishes, in remote villages and in the slums. They visit the sick, pray with families, teach the children catechism, hold Bible studies with adolescents and lead devotionals. This teaches them about life in the communities and allows them to grow into pastoral ministry. They take part in retreats and religious exercises to strengthen them in their spiritual life and their vocations. Once a year, they spend three days with the bishop and the priests of the diocese.

ACN has donated $14,000 to allow the seminarians to continue their priestly formation for another year.

 

You would like to make a donation in support of seminarians or a similar project?  You can do so simply by clicking ‘Donate’.


 

ACN Interview – “In India, the Church serves all, fighting discrimination on all fronts”

20.04.2018 in ACN Interview, ACN USA, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Joop Koopman, Dalits, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau

India

“The Church serves all, fighting discrimination on all fronts”

 

Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur was recently appointed Chairman of the Commission for Scheduled Castes (SCs)/other Backward Castes (BCs) by the Catholic Conference of Bishops of India (CBCI). An important part of the Commission’s task is to shape the Church’s policies with regard to the country’s dalits—the lowest caste in the Hindu hierarchy, formerly known as ‘untouchables’—who suffer severe discrimination in Indian society. Dalits comprise 65 percent of India’s Catholic population of close to 20 million. A native of Kandhamal, Odisha State, where some 100 Christians were murdered by a Hindu mob in 2008, Bishop Nayak is one of only 12 dalit bishops, out of a total 224. Aid to the Church in Need met him. 

 

Why are Christian (and Muslim) dalits still denied affirmative action, even though the Indian Constitution guarantees equal rights to all citizens?

After independence from England in 1947, the Indian Constitution went into effect in January 1950. It guaranteed equal fundamental rights for all of its citizens, irrespective of caste and creed. On Aug. 10, 1950, a Presidential Order went into effect to grant Hindu tribal people and dalits affirmative action benefits to compensate for their low socio-economic status after centuries of neglect and discrimination. Dalits belonging to other religions, however, were not included. Eventually, Buddhist and Sikh dalits were granted the so-called ‘Scheduled Castes’ status along with the benefits. However, Muslim and Christian dalits remain deprived of these rights to this day, despite continuous protests and appeals to the government for the past 60 years.

Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur diocese in India. The motto’s Bishop is “to be a happy servant”. 

Previous governments, mostly run by the Congress Party, did not have the political will to amend the Constitution, even when they had the absolute majority in Parliament. The present BJP government, with its Hindu nationalist ideology, is openly against extending the Constitution’s affirmative action provision to Muslim and Christian dalits.

 

Is the Church in a position to change the situation? What is the Church’s strategy on this front?

Christians comprise only 2.5 percent of the total population, so politically, the Church has not been able to do much to challenge the constitutional validity of the 1950 Presidential Order. It must be challenged, as it discriminates purely on the basis of religion, which runs against the basic tenets of the Indian Constitution that hold that all citizens must be treated equally—irrespective of caste, creed, gender or religion. The Church’s sustained peaceful protests have not succeeded thus far, though news coverage has brought the issue to the attention of the general public.

As a strategy, the Church is trying to fight it out alongside Muslims and people of goodwill from other faiths and various political ideologies. The Church is also trying to unite all dalits on this issue; unfortunately, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh dalits are concerned that the extension of benefits to Muslims and Christians might reduce their benefits. Finally, the Church approaches the issue from a human rights perspective. The deprivation of dalit Christians is a violation of human rights, a violation by international standards.

 

Some believe that if Christian dalits were granted government benefits many Hindu dalits would convert to Christianity. What are the aspects of the Christian life that are attractive to lower-caste Hindus?

The fear of mass conversions to Christianity seems unfounded; it is also another form of degrading dalits to presume they would change their religion to gain material benefits. This has been the strategy of the Hindu mind-set, irrespective of political ideologies: to instil fear of a mass exodus in the Hindu majority. Facts prove that the opposite is true: even though dalit Christians are deprived of government benefits, and even, in some states, suffer discrimination, they still remain faithful to their faith—even to the point of suffering martyrdom. What’s more, when the affirmative action provisions were extended to Buddhists and Sikhs, Muslim and Christian dalits or Hindu dalits did not join those faiths.

 

It is true, however, that Christians are known for their peace-loving, service-minded way of life that respects all people and that is dedicated to mission work. Hindu fundamentalists try to prevent or put obstacles in the way of Christian services such as those in the fields of education, health care or social services, lest people become attracted and embrace Christianity. Six states have anti-conversion laws in place to prevent any conversions. It is often said and accepted as fact that, though they only account for 2.5 percent of the population, Christians provide 20 percent of national services in various fields—yet, the size of the Christian community has not grown much in India.

 

Can you explain why Hindu nationalists are so hostile to Christianity?

In February 2016: Visit to a Hindu Temple.

First of all, they associate colonial British rule with Christianity. Relatively few British came to India, and yet they ruled it for more than 200 years; the Hindu nationalists fear that if there are more Christians in India, they will rule India again. Christianity is seen as a foreign religion. Secondly, Christianity challenges various tenets and practices of the Hindu religion and Hindus fear losing their influence.

For example, the Christian faith challenged the age-old practice of sati pratha, by which a widow was burned alive together with the dead body of the husband; the Hindu religion held that women have no independent existence apart from men—that widows have no right to exist, to own property or to remarry. That practice is almost fully eradicated today. Secondly, there is the jati pratha (the Caste System), which classifies people according to their birth and treats them as low or high. There are no social relationships allowed among the various castes.

Dalits are considered outcasts or untouchables—even coming under their shadow is considered to make someone impure. The caste system does not allow a person to take up a profession other than the job of the caste or family one is born into. The Church strives to eradicate casteism. It promotes and upholds the equal dignity and rights of every citizen.

The hindutwa ideology espoused by Hindu nationalists is trying to impose cultural nationalism, which calls for one culture, one language and one religion. While faithful to the teachings of Christ, the Church recognizes, respects and promotes the pluralism of cultures and language.

Finally, Hinduism is steeped in many dark beliefs, including the practice of black magic, sorcery, etc., which are used to exploit, torture and blackmail people. The Church, through education and awareness-raising, especially among dalits and tribal people, liberates people from these evil forces.

 

What are the bishops doing to combat discrimination against Catholic dalits within the Church itself?

At many national meetings, the bishops of India have issued statements calling for the end of the discrimination against dalits and of casteism, not only in the Church but also in society at large. However, casteism appears to be deeply rooted in the psyche of many Indians, including Christians. The “tail” of casteism survives even after Baptism. Now, by formally adopting the dalit policy in the Church, the Indian bishops have committed to a campaign to empower the dalits and educate all the faithful, reaffirming the equality of all people, and stressing the fact that dalits must be given equal opportunity in various professional and social fields.

 

How does the tension play out between deep-rooted Hindu notions of purity and the Gospel’s message that all men and women are equally worthy in the eyes of God?

Casteism in India is not only part of the Hindu religion—it is part of the Indian culture. Even though the Constitution of India forbids the practice of casteism, it still exists; and, sadly, it still exists even among Christians. In the past, as part of a missionary strategy for evangelization, casteism was tolerated by some missionaries, and some of that attitude persists today. Christianity is believed to first have been brought to Kerala and some parts of Tamilnadu by St. Thomas; local higher-caste Christians for centuries claimed a direct bloodline to the apostle; because of this caste mentality, the faith remained confined to that region and did not spread to other parts of the country for more than 1,500 years. It is only when St. Francis Xavier came to India that Christianity spread.

India, February 2018:  Holy Eucharist in a village – dalit community

 

You are a dalit yourself; what has been your experience pursuing your vocation in the Church?

I personally did not experience any discrimination in my childhood and even during my seminary formation. Discriminating against people according to caste is not only un-Christian; it is also inhuman. I am happy to be a priest and consider my priesthood to be the greatest gift God has given me for the good of His people. The episcopacy is an added responsibility and I try “to be a happy servant,” which is the motto of my episcopate. Being a dalit, it may be easier for me than for others to understand the concept of a being servant; and as a first generation Christian in my family, my faith in Christ brings me great happiness—as it is still new and still uncontaminated.

 


 

India: A Church that goes to the poorest of the poor

06.04.2018 in ACN International, Asia, Feature Story, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Karla Sponar

India

A Church that goes to the poorest of the poor

Bita lives in a mud-walled hut with an earthen floor. Actually, it is only a few mud walls covered by a plastic sheet. Her old house burned down a year ago. “That was a great misfortune.” One of the children saw the fire start just in time and was able to pull the younger sister out of the house, the mother of three says. The church community then helped her obtain a small loan. This allowed her to temporarily move into a nearby dwelling, although it is not much more than a makeshift shelter of mud and straw: one room to sleep in, one to cook and live in, both of them only about three by three metres.

Most of the Dalits live in extremely close quarters, and their space is even further restricted. “There are a lot of things that Dalits are not permitted to touch; they may not be touched and may not set down their things everywhere,” Father John explains. His name has been changed for his safety. For decades, he has been working with Dalits, the members of the lowest caste in India. “The cooking area, for example, is a holy place. Once, I put down a drinking glass in the wrong place. It was a huge drama,” the priest recalls. For the host he was visiting, it was an affront that made it “unholy.” For the Dalits it is like a ban. They believe that disaster will befall anyone who doesn’t respect it.

India, February 2017: Bita (name changed for security reasons) with one of her sons at home in Bihar State. Faith in the Gospel and joy of Christ changed her life and the future with hope in Bihar State.

 

 

 

 

Plagued by a spirit world
Bita once believed this as well. “I was very scared and afraid of bad spirits.” It was an imaginary world that began to plague her more and more. “I was even afraid to get out of bed and walk. I became ill.”

 

Then she met a Christian woman who told her about the Bible. The message that there is a God who is a champion of the poor and the lowest in society, who invites them to join His community, goes beyond anything that the Dalits can imagine. This Christian invitation also began to exert its influence on Bita. Today, she is being pressured by her neighbours. Most people in the village are members of other religions and distrust how Bita is growing closer and closer to the Catholic community. “I fear that they are also a little envious because I am now part of a community that supports me. That I am feeling better again, since I started going to church.”

 

Strengthened, yet under new threat as a minority
Anyone who visits Bita can feel some of the anxiety that hangs in the air. Bita and a small handful of other people have now converted to Christianity. They are a minority among neighbours who are trying to get Bita to leave the church. However, she remains true to her faith. “I have also convinced my husband. He stands by me now. We have more joy in our lives and also earn a little more. We have hope again. We have put our faith in God and the church.”
When asked which passage from the Bible she likes best, she takes a moment to reflect. “Jesus says, love thy neighbour. That gives me strength.”

 

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) support Christians in India, especially in the North-East of the country, for many years now. Nationalist groups have branded them the enemy of Indian society. ACN is presenting projects that support the poorest of the poor so that they can live their faith and develop as individuals in dignity: www.india.acninternational.org

 

You can always donate for many projects in India. Simply click on the button below,
and indicate in the commentary rectangle – set a the end of the process -,
that you want to give for a project in India!

Thank you! 


India: A love that doesn’t take retirement

23.03.2018 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Asia, By Maria Lozano, Feature Story, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Mass Offerings

A love that doesn’t take retirement

They have dedicated their lives to God and to their fellow men, following a path of great renunciation. They are seven priests who, many decades ago, left behind their own home territory in the South of India to work as missionaries in the North of the country. A thousand miles and more from home, both in geographical terms and in terms of their faith, these priests may not have changed their country, but they did have to learn a new language and new customs in this vast and immensely richly varied subcontinent that is India. And now they are living in a small home for retired priests. But if their bodies have suffered the ravages of time, their spirits have not. They continue to burn with the desire to incarnate the very essence of their vocation by serving God in their fellow men, right up to the hour of their death.

“My mission has been and still is to suffer with Christ,” says Father Joseph Mattathilani, summing up a life marked by grave illnesses, including a brain tumour. “I was left paralyzed for months, and at one point they gave me just three days to live,” he explains. Yet he radiates peace and serenity, despite his fragile health. “My mother died when I was a child. Our Lady was the one to take care of me and bring me to the priesthood. I wanted to give my life for other people. The miracle was to get so much love back from other people.”

Archbishop William D’Souza and Father Aloysius, 90 years old. In this diocese, 60 Novena Masses for 10 retired priests were distributed. 

In a similar way, speaking with some difficulty, Father George Theruvan recalls other sufferings. Now aged 87, he vividly recalls one of the attacks on their mission, when guerrillas put a pistol to his temple and he thought his last moment had come. “I began to pray and I offered my life to God, asking to be able to embrace this moment in peace. Those were two terrible hours. But then, after destroying everything, they left again. Not everyone welcomed us with open arms; many times we had to start over again. But all of us can truly say that it was worth the trouble and that we have been treated with great affection and gratitude by the ordinary people.”

“We travelled from one place to another, spending a night in each village, where we explained the Gospel and celebrated the sacraments,” recalls Father Sebastian Puthenpura. He also tells us about the beginnings of his missionary work. This priest, who has just celebrated his 85th birthday, quickly discovered “that our work would have been in vain if we had not educated the women. The Church cannot progress without those who will be the future pillars of their society, namely the mothers,” he insists. At that time it was not easy to convince the fathers to send their daughters to school, nor is it easy even today in the poorest rural areas of the state of Bihar. The South of India has centuries of Christian tradition behind it, whereas in the region of Bihar, the archdiocese of Patna will only just be celebrating the first century of its existence in 2019.

But “always and in everything I find my support in the Lord,” he adds. Even during the times when the ordinary cultural difficulties were exacerbated by the instability in the region due to the presence of terrorists and armed gangs. “Once I went to a village where there were 11 girls and nobody was willing to send them to school; they thought it too dangerous. The school was empty. But then it occurred to me that Saint Joseph was the guardian of the Child Jesus and looked after him and cared for him. So I entrusted the school to his care, and within two months we had 400 children.”

At the age of 90, Father Aloysius Sequeira is the oldest of the group. “I became a priest because I wanted to be a missionary. To do so, I travelled over 2000 miles (3000 km) to give my life for the people. I knew that the Lord would do the rest. This year I will complete my 60th year in the priesthood, and I have never regretted it even for a single day.”

“What good does it do you to gain the whole world if you don’t have God?

Father Sebastian picked up the thread of the conversation here and told us how he had a good job and everything he could possibly need to live a comfortable and happy life in the South of India, until one day he heard a bishop from the North of India speak about the missions. He asked himself, “What good does it do you to gain the whole world if you don’t have God? Everything else is in vain.” Still full of vitality, he recalls how “I went to my father and told him, I’m going to be a priest. I’m going to leave work and travel with the bishop. It’s been over 50 years since then, and I am still helping as much as I can, above all hearing confessions, and they call me up from the charismatic spiritual centre as well to help them, because they can’t cope with the demand.”

Visit of ACN Team in the residence for old priests – Father Sebastian: ““What good does it do you to gain the whole world if you don’t have God?”

Many of them have health problems now, especially their hearts which seem to be worn down after having battled and cared so much for the simple, ordinary people in so many villages and rural corners of the dioceses of Patna and Buxar. Thanks to the Mass stipends channelled to them by the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), they are able to cover at least some of their medical expenses. They are immensely grateful to ACN and to all its generous benefactors: “We are missionaries and we are on the front line, but you are supporting us from your own home countries with your prayers and your financial support, thanks to the Mass stipends that come to us through ACN. And so you too have become missionaries, so that we can work together for the glory of God.”

 

ACN provides a significant part of its financial aid to priests in the poorest parts of the world (above all in Africa and Asia) in the form of Mass intentions, which they celebrate for the intentions of our benefactors. A total of around 1.5 million Masses are celebrated in this way each year – or one every 22 seconds. For places like the archdiocese of Patna, this represents an indispensable support, since in many such poor areas of the world the priests cannot count on the support of the people but, on the contrary, even have to support them instead.

 

If you want to pass via Aid to the Church in Need for your Mass intentions, please visit the following web address:
https://secure.acn-canada.org/product-category/mass-offerings/


 

ACN Project of the week – India – ACN Help to build a church

21.03.2018 in ACN PROJECTS, Asia, Construction, India, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN

India

Construction of a new church in the mission of Jubaguda

 

Jubaguda is one of the 36 villages in the archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar in Odisha (formerly Orissa) State in northeast India which made tragic headlines back in 2008 when they were the scene of murderous and violent attacks against Christians.

 

Jubaguda is a large village around 300 km, or 7 hours drive by car, from Bhubaneswar. It lies in the southwest of Odisha State in the inner Kandhamal mountains and was first established as a mission in 1960 by the Vincentian Fathers. It is a promising area of evangelization. Currently the mission serves some 2,693 families (12,176 individuals) in some 51 remote mountain villages. Of these, some 770 families (4,850 people) already profess the Catholic faith, and their numbers are growing. Around 90% of the people here belong to the indigenous “Khond”people, while the rest are members of the Dalits, the lowest caste in Indian society. According to our project partners, the Khonds are among the less developped peoples in Odisha. They number around 1.5 million and speak their own dialect, Kui. Until recently this tribe lived hidden in the jungle and followed a form of animist belief. Both they and the Dalits are extremely poor and live by a form of subsistence farming, growing rice, maize and vegetables.They were socially and politically exploited. However, this is now slowly changing.

Parishioners in Kandhamal in Odisha during the celebration of holy Mass.

 

Thus they are all the more appreciative of the blessings the mission station has brought them, including the boarding homes for 270 girl and boy pupils, the healthcare station, the simple parish house and the convent of religious sisters. Two priests and five sisters live and work here in the mission, supported by a team of 37 volunteer catechists. But even by their combined efforts they can do no more than compensate for, rather than overcome, the glaring lack of infrastructure (roads, electricity supply, schools, etc.).

 

In 2008 Jubaguda was also threatened with destruction by a violent mob, but was fortunately spared. Yet despite this threat, the people have clung to their faith, and the Church is growing rapidly.

In the villages served by the mission station the people generally have to make with thatched huts for chapels, where the priests can also stay overnight if necessary. Back in 1978 Jubaguda itself had managed to build a small church with an asbestos roof, which, however had long since grown too small to accommodate the 1000 or so people who we are attending Holy Mass each Sunday. As a result it had long since been necessary to provide a second Sunday Mass.

 

However, in March 2013 lightning struck a large tree, which fell across the church, causing half of it to collapse and smashing most of the roof. This happened just as the children from the boarding house had gathered to pray there, and 62 of them were injured when the roof fell on them. Miraculously, however, none of the children suffered any lasting injuries as a result.

 

At any rate, Holy Mass is now hold in a room in the boys’ boarding house, which, of course, is far too small for the whole community. Originally, they had been planning to repair the damaged church, but on the advice of experts they have decided that it would be more costly than building new. So now the parish is planning to build a new and much larger church, that would also be more suited in size to the present number of the Catholic faithful. ACN has already promised 36.240 dollars towards the cost.

Parishioners in Odisha during the celebration of holy Mass.

Thank you to help to build a new church for the people of  Jubaguda!
You can give via our website: just click on the button below.