Helping our Brothers and Sisters in India

08-26-2018From the Pastor's DeskRev. Msgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

This week I have asked Fr. Shibi to write about the devastation caused by floods in the part of India he is from. If Fr. Shibi and Fr. Jobin were not here they would be in the pictures that accompany this article. They would be with their brother priests walking through the flood waters to rescue their people. Next weekend (September 1st & 2nd), we will have a second collection after Communion to help the victims of this natural tragedy. Lives have been lost, houses destroyed, and roads wiped out. We pray for the victims and have the opportunity to help financially. Fr. Shibi and Fr. Jobin are a gift to us and to their people.

My Dear Friends in Christ,

With heartfelt sorrow and agony, we write this letter to make you aware of the great tragedy that has occurred in Kerala, India, my home state and the home state of Fr. Jobin, Fr. Jilson, and a large percentage of Catholics and Christians in India. Sadly, today most of Kerala, is under red alert as the state reels under its worst flooding in nearly a century. Life has been brought to a standstill in most parts. The historic flooding experienced in Kerala has created devastation in a personal way for more than 300,000 families. Though the floodwaters have receded, many of our friends and neighbors are still struggling with devastating losses and remain displaced. It will likely take them ten to fifteen years to recover from this disaster. The estimate for flood repairs is approximately 3 billion USD.

In this situation, Bethany Ashram, our Religious Order, has called off all planned celebrations as part of our centenary of the foundation (1919-2019). Instead of having various programs, as planned earlier, the congregation has made a decision to do relief work in the flood-affected areas. Our priests are deployed in rescue and relief work across the state. They are now focusing on the first stages of flood relief work, namely distributing food, water, essential supplies and, providing shelter to people in the hardest-hit districts. Support is also being offered through trauma relief camps for those severely affected. The second stage will include building houses, schools, hospitals, and agricultural and job facilitating centers.

At least 349 people have been killed in flooding in Kerala with local officials confirming that death count will likely rise to near 500. Rescuers are battling torrential rains to save residents, with more than 600,000 people left homeless in camps. Thousands have been evacuated and more than ten thousand are isolated in the flooded areas. Rescue operations and evacuation procedures are in progress in spite of the heavy rains and bad weather. All three wings of the armed forces have been pressed into action for massive rescue operations. Roads are damaged, mobile phone networks are down, and an international airport has been closed after unusually heavy rain in the past nine days. Thousands of houses have been destroyed, crops and plantations have been devastated, electricity and water systems are down due to the storm, rain and floods. As electricity has been completely cut off for days, men, women, children and the elderly are literally struggling to survive. Most of the churches and schools have become asylums for the refuges. These evacuated people do not have enough toilet facilities, food and medicines.

During this alarming situation in Kerala, hundreds are dead, thousands of houses are destroyed, and tens of thousands are homeless. Government officials do not know “what to do” and “where to start” as they have not witnessed such a terrible situation in their lifetimes. Despite all these calamities, the people of Kerala keep their faith in God, hoping for a good future and doing works of charity among the needy. Forgetting the boundaries of caste and religion, all people in Kerala have united together to help the victims. During this horrible situation, our Holy Father Pope Francis and the Catholic Bishops Conference of India have asked the international community to come and join their hands together so that the situation may not get worse and restoration can begin.

The Church in Kerala is on the frontlines in helping the flood affected areas. But due to heavy rain and the high current of the floodwaters, rescue personnel cannot reach isolated areas where thousands have been starving for days while hoping that they will be safe soon. This is a tragedy beyond imagination. Unlike developed countries, India does not have proper weather warning systems, evacuation procedures, insurance to cover damage, or any significant government assistance. Many people have been unable to contact their missing relatives. Many have lost everything and have little hope for the future. Many of our churches and priest’s houses have been completely flooded, including many rectories and a Provincial Superior’s residence. Their losses, however, have not prevented them from becoming literal “fishers of men” in rescue efforts.

Tens of thousands of people were rescued by fishermen in the region who used their boats to go to isolated areas, otherwise unreachable, to “give life” to those who would have surely died. Their courage and selflessness illustrates, once again, why Jesus chose fishermen as His disciples to continue His mission on earth. This Sunday’s Gospel speaks about a crisis situation that Jesus faced when He speaks about eternal life through eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood. His listeners, finding this teaching too difficult, left Him, except His disciples. Why? Because Jesus had a grip on their minds, on their hearts, on their lives. So strong a grip that they could not easily shake and lose it. Their hearts were with Jesus. Yes, Kerala is facing a crisis – a crisis between life and death. We cannot leave them because they’re God’s children, our brothers and sisters. Let us pray for them, and offer our sacrifices. Together let us make a difference and unite our hearts with the people of Kerala.

Fr. Shibi & Fr. Jobin