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Church Of God In “God’s Own Country”

Church Of God In “God’s Own Country”

In his message to the Vincentian family on the feast of St. Vincent de Paul on September 27, 2017, Pope Francis said that charity is central to the Church’s mission, and we are called to share it with the world, especially those in need. “All of us, in truth, are called to water ourselves upon the rock that is the Lord and to quench the world's thirst with the charity that springs from Him,” he wrote. It was such an occasion for the Church in India, especially of Kerala, to reach out to the people of flooded and affected regions and contribute to its vivid needs – material, psychological and spiritual. The reports from the social wing of the Church points to the great efforts organised by the community and its leaders during the floods and after.

Impacts of the Calamity

The unprecedented catastrophe has no parallels in India. As per the tweet of the National Disaster Management Authority on 22nd August, at least a million people were evacuated from their houses. According to the government statistics, one sixth of the total population in the state is directly affected by the floods and related incidents. Though an accurate calculation of the huge damages in terms of loss of lives, property and livelihood is impossible, it is measured to be more than 25,000 crores.

A report released by Fr. George Vettikkattil, the executive Director of Kerala Social Service Forum (KSSF), gives us a glance at the havoc caused by the disaster: Houses damaged – 75,000; Loss of cattle – 46,000; Poultry loss – 200,000; Crop loss – 45,000 hectares of farm land; PWD road damages – 16,000 kilometres; Local roads damaged – 82,000 kilometres; Bridges damaged – 134. This statistics is based on primary reports, hence prone to change. And also, many towns were under water and the loss of businesses is yet to be analysed. 14,50,000 people shifted to relief camps and around 500,000 people settled in their relatives’ and others’ houses.

Kerala Church “in the field”

The Catholic Church in Kerala had fully engaged and was actively involved in the relief and restoration activities along with the state administrative structures and other non-governmental organizations. The most notable intervention is the mobilization of the fishermen and boats by the dioceses of Trivandrum, Kollam, Alappuzha, etc. The bishops of the dioceses, as per the requests received from the respective district collectors, advised the parish priests in the coastal region to organize the fishermen. Of the 669 fishing boats participated in the rescue operations, nearly 500 were arranged by the dioceses. It was touching to listen to the District Collector of Trivandrum, Ms. Vasuki, mentioning about this timely intervention of the church, during her speech in a meeting arranged by the Diocese of Trivandrum to congratulate and thank the fishermen.

     The interventions of the Church in Kerala are multifaceted and surely no account can comprehend them completely. All the 41 dioceses in the state opened most of its institutions and buildings to inhabit the flood victims. All the dioceses in the southern India cooperated with those in the state to send food, clothes and other relief materials to affected areas. Few parishes, where they do not have enough infrastructures to shelter people, even opened their churches. People of different religions were accommodated in all these camps. According to the statistics prepared by KSSF, 3000 relief camps were opened by the Government and the Church collaborated with the government authorities. Nearly eleven lakh people were accommodated in them. There were 192 help desks operated by various diocesan social service forums (DSS). According to information furnished by Kerala Social Service Forum (KSSF) in collaboration with its 32 partner Diocesan Social Service Societies (DSSS), the numbers of Church personnel involved were: Laity/ volunteers – 99705; Youth – 69821; Religious – 6737; Priests – 2891. The vehicles arranged/used by Church Institutions for rescue were: school vans – 195; tippers/ national permit lorries – 437; motor boats – 40; country boats – 329; fishing boats – 440; other vehicles – 1365. The number of vehicles and volunteers will definitely be much more since many of them were not in a situation to move in collaboration with the official systems. DSSS have supplied food, clothes, sanitary items, cooking utensils, medicines, drinking water, washing and cleaning materials etc. and have conducted medical camps in many places. It is estimated that around Rs 40 crore is spent by the Church in Kerala for the rescue and relief works as on 24th August.

As I mentioned earlier, it is a herculean task and a tedious effort to enumerate all that the Catholic Church in India did and doing in the context of floods in Kerala. Yet it is good to have a look at few of the major interventions to have a grasp of the service that the Church happily carried out:

·                   Bishops of all the dioceses a ppealed to church authorities under the respective dioceses to open church schools and other institutions to the displaced people, and distribute food, clothes and other relief materials.

·                   Diocese of Mananthavady prepared and distributed around 3000 food kits of Rs.1000. Bishop Mar Jose Porunnedom requested his faithful to visit their neighbours to find the starving and inform the bishop’s house through their parish priests. The diocese could coordinate relief materials of an average amount of Rs. 3 crores from inside and outside.

·                   Many of the bishop’s houses in Kerala like Trichur, Mananthavady and Pala operated like food stores.

·                   Cardinal Baselios Mar Cleemis, Major Archbishop of the Syro Malankara Church, contributed Rs. 25 lakhs to the relief fund of chief minister.

·                   Religious order of Capuchins in Kerala opened all its houses as relief camps. Those houses were given with all its amenities to those who are in rescue mission or relief work.

·                   Rev. Sr. Principal of St. Mary’s College, Trichur welcomed all the nearby flood victims to the college, through a facebook video.

·                   Many religious houses and retreat centres were functioning as relief centres.

·                   Relief camps in Mangalapuzha and Carmelgiri Major Seminaries accomodated more than 1500 people. Priests and seminarians were at their service. Seminarians and priests of St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Vadavathoor and Mary Matha Major Seminary, Thrissur visited the flood affected families and helped them to clean the houses and premises.

·                   Pallivasal St. Anne’s church permitted a Hindu family to bury their deceased father in the church cemetery. The family had no place to bury him due to flood.

·                   Organizations like KCYM and CML cancelled all their competitions from parishes to state level, in view of raising fund for the relief works.

·                   When Angel Valley, a village in Kanjirapalli, was isolated, it was the diocese of Kanjirapalli that arrived first with help. Malanad Development Society of the diocese distributed food and other essential materials for the affected people in different places.

·                   The service of the religious sisters is worth mentioning. A huge number of them were fully involved in relief works. A convent prepared 7000 chappathis overnight to distribute. Sisters of different congregations kept their houses open for the needy, went in search of affected people and consoled and encouraged them with their presence and prayers.

·                   Many catholic hospitals like St. Thomas Chethipuzha, Lourde Ernakulam and Caritas Kottayam offered free treatment to the affected.

·                   Rescue operations in Kuttanad were completely undertaken by the Archdiocese of Changanacherry. Majority of the relief camps were also managed by the Archdiocese.

·                   Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (KCBC) contributed Rs. 1 crore to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.

·                   Many churches kept their offering boxes solely dedicated to relief works.

·                   Diocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly spent around 6 crores for relief works.

·                   Priests of the Camillian congregation with their Camillian Task Force conducted medical camps in different parts of Kerala.

·                   Diocese of Kalyan declared a relief programme. Monthly allowances of all the priests were collected to this purpose. Housing project of Rs. 1 crore, contribution to the Chief Minister’s relief fund and Caritas India are part of their programme.

·                   Fr Jose Chittadiyil of the diocese of Idukki contributed 1.5 acres of land to the homeless families of the diocese, which he received as his patrimony.

·                   St. Joseph’s church, Bedoor gave its 1 acre land in equal distribution to 10 families.

·                   Laymen, representatives of different catholic organizations, nuns, priests and bishops visited the flood affected families consoled and encouraged them and helped to clean their houses and premises.

·                   Archbishop Dr Joseph Kalathiparambil of Verapoly has put his car on auction to raise relief fund.

·                   Diocese of Palai contributed rupees 50 lakhs each to CM’s Relief Fund and to the diocese of Idukki and Archdiocese of Changanacherry.

·                   Bhadravathi, Thakkala, Mandya, Balthangady, Shamshabad, Hosur, Shillong, Fareedabad etc. sent a good number of clothes and food items for the flood affected in Kerala. Many of these dioceses have lent their hands with financial help also.  

·                   Priests in different dioceses have donated their one month allowance for the relief works.

·                   Amalolbhava Matha Church at Manjummal contributed 25 sovereign gold-ornaments decorated the statues in the church-to CM’s Relief Fund.

·                   Diocese of Kollam handed over Rs. 10 lakh to the Relief Fund of the CM.

     I can with confidence say that the above list is just a small part of the reality and much more is to be included. Contributions of the dioceses in the affected areas, donations made by the Religious Congregations and laymen, the efforts in manpower etc. are not included. Consider it only as a window opened to the works of charity carried out by the Catholic Church in Kerala.        

Interventions of the Church in India

     Involvement and support of Caritas India, the official National Organization of Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) for social concern and human development, was made available from the very first day of the disaster. They have reached out to 10821 families in Alappuzha, Kottayam, Wayanad and Idukki districts of Kerala with food kits and other amenities. Coordinating with local agencies and INGOs, Caritas India has spent an amount of nearly 9 crore in the affected regions. Fr. Paul Moonjely, the Executive Director, and Fr. Jolly Vadakkan, the Assistant Director, visited the affected districts to formulate the future action plan of the organization.

Almost all the catholic dioceses in India have reached out to Kerala with their helping hands. Few of them have declared help and are coordinating them locally. The Archdiocese of Shillong in Meghalaya has started collecting funds for Kerala and has assured their prayers and support for the state.

March to the Future

     Rebuilding Kerala is the responsibility of the whole nation and more of each one residing in the state. Church in Kerala has taken it as a mission and is functioning as if it is in the warfront. Have a look at the projects and proposals declared by different dioceses and organizations:

·                   Archdiocese of Tellicherry declared a help of rupees 7 crore for rehabilitation. 

·                   Diocese of Mananthavady declared housing projects and at present assessing the loss and collecting the number of houses to be repaired and rebuilt.

·                   Archdiocese of Trichur declared “Save Trichur” project. Repairing and rebuilding of the damaged houses, medical camps and cleaning programmes are part of it.

·                   Archdiocese of Verapoly has appealed to its parishes through a circular to reduce expenses of celebrations and avail the balance to the diocesan relief fund.

·                   Vincentian Congregation, Kottayam Province, declared a housing project for those who lost both land and house.

·                   Diocese of Irinjalakkuda will adopt 1000 families for one year and will provide monthly financial assistance. Diocese will also help in the reconstruction of the damaged houses and the education of the affected students.

·                   Mar John Nellikkunnel, Bishop of Idukki, asked the parishes and faithful to donate the land in their custody, to the homeless and flood affected. The diocese is working towards the renovation of the damaged houses and rebuilding of the totally lost ones.

·                   Most important one is the project of Rs. 100 crore by the Archdiocese of Changanacherry for the rehabilitation of entire Kuttanad. Newly built and repaired houses, 1000 water preservation units, 100 water purifying plants, 1000 toilets enabled to overcome floods, waste management plants etc. are part of it.