Through faith in Christ, Indian Capuchins help the poor and marginalised
by Santosh Digal
Friars from the Udhayam Peace Centre in Chennai (Tamil Nadu) combine an outreach approach typical of NGO with Christianity. Their initiatives are directed at women, children, beggars and the needy through free schooling, a night-time shelter, hostel as well as sewing machines and civic education.

Chennai (AsiaNews) - Capuchin friars from the Udhayam Peace Centre in Chennai (Tamil Nadu) are engaged in an outreach programme that includes providing sewing machines, English and math lessons, free schooling for children and training for women. The idea, Fr Nithiya Sagayam OFM told AsiaNews, is "to focus on the poorest and the most marginalised, bringing our Christian faith to activities that are typical of NGOs." Thus, in the past four months, the friars stopped to use donated money, trying instead to help people become self-reliant and build their own better future.

"The social apostolate has changed," said the friar, who is also executive secretary of the Office of Human Development of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC). "From a need-based approach, we have moved to a development-centred one."

"Everyone is now talking about rights-based approaches, but for us Franciscan Capuchins, who profess to follow the Gospel, a faith-based approach is what is needed," he explained.

In the past four months, the friars have in fact moved from money-based charity dependence to helping people stand on their own two feet in order to build a better future for themselves.

In doing so, the centre is following as closely as possible the approach taken by Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi.

Some of what the Udhayam Peace Centre does involves refugees. The friars have brought sewing machines to refugee camps and provided English and math lessons.

They Capuchins have also provided free schooling and civic courses to children, and organised self-help courses for women in order to empower them. This has given them an opportunity to emancipate themselves economically, socially and culturally.

Finally, the homeless and the children of scavengers also receive important consideration. A night-time shelter is available to the former, whilst the latter, who are on their own during the day, are provided with room and board.