The new centre is a "Monument of Mercy", established as a response to Pope Francis’s appeal during the extraordinary Jubilee of 2016. It is located in Taloja, where PIME has run a dispensary for lepers since 1984. It will be a place of culture and interfaith dialogue, exchange of ideas and openness to the marginalised. The goal is to bring patients and healthy people into contact to overcome the leprosy taboo and the shunning of Dalits.
Taloja (AsiaNews) – The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) inaugurated a ‘House of Mercy’ last Saturday in Taloja, a few kilometres from Mumbai. The facility will serve as a platform for "interfaith dialogue, the exchange of ideas, service to the sick, welcoming international volunteers, and – Why not? – PIME’s future new regional house.”
The house will be the place where PIME can organise and coordinate many other works for the benefit of the discarded and the poorest in society,” said Fr Rayarala Vijay Kumar, regional superior of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in India, speaking to AsiaNews. “Here we want to show the merciful face of the Father who is good and generous to everyone, regardless of creed and caste."
The new facility consists of a two-storey building, with 24 double rooms (48 guests) and a large living room on the ground floor.
The inauguration ceremony and the blessing took place in the presence of almost 500 people, including many friends, volunteers and staff from other facilities founded by the priests.
PIME superior general Fr Ferruccio Brambillasca, who led the Mass, noted that new centre was created "in response to the invitation of Pope Francis who, in 2016, during the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, asked all of us Christians to create Monuments of Mercy".
Fr Carlo Torriani, an Italian missionary, was with the superior. Among the people of the village, he is some sort of institution himself. A missionary in India since 1969, today he is “retired” but that has not stopped him from traveling back and forth from Italy to serve the villagers.
He was among the first to see the urgency of caring for people affected by leprosy and assist those in need. His efforts led to the creation of the Lok Seva Sangam (Society to serve the people, LSS), an association that operates in the shantytowns of India’s megacity and is led today by lay Indians; the Swarga Dwar (Gate of Heaven), a dispensary for lepers; and the Shanthi Sangam, an interfaith chapel-ashram for retreats and prayers.
Now, "there is also this new centre,” Fr Torriani said. “It is located in the same compound as the Swarga Dwar. We specifically wanted it so, to allow a more direct contact with the sick."
For this reason, "the kitchen is missing in the new structure,” Fr Rayarala explained. “Sick and healthy will eat together in the lepers' refectory. The same will be true for Church leaders who will come here and all the guests we welcome, even the regional superior. If the decision is made to move the headquarters here, he will not just be a PIME manager but will live amid this reality".
For the clergyman, this sort of forced cohabitation "offers the perfect opportunity to really share our life with the sick, not just in words, but in deeds.
In fact, the house “will be a place of prayer and spirituality for those people who are searching for the truth and want to offer their time, work and energy to the members of the most marginalised sectors of society. Here there will be no abstract praying, but a real sharing of everyday life.”
The PIME Mercy Home "wants to be a bridge" between religions and raise awareness about the lepers’ living conditions. At the same time, it is meant to break down the wall of distrust that surrounds people who live with Hansen's disease.”
What is more, "those who see us understand that we are working for humanity, not proselytising or converting people. Swarga Dwar is a symbol of the Christian religion which, like every religion, promotes peace."
Finally, "When people have the opportunity to see and experience suffering, they begin to understand even more the pain of segregation and marginalisation,” Fr Torriani noted. “It is very important to overcome the caste division in India. We hope people will start to follow us. We may be the small drop that breaks the rock."