03/09/2023, 13.42
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A church in Tamil Nadu helping women and disabled children

by Nirmala Carvalho

Periyanayagi Maatha parish in Konankuppam includes a shrine dedicated to Mary built by an Italian missionary. Widows and marginalised mothers are employed at the site; nearby, nuns take care of children with speech and hearing impairment.

Chennai (AsiaNews) – Women's empowerment and caring for disabled children are at the centre of the pastoral work of the Periyanayagi Maatha Marian Shrine, located in Konankuppam, a village in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, built by Italian missionary Fr Costantino Beschi.

"We employ a group of widows and mothers on the margins of society,” said Fr Devasagayaraj, head of the largely Dalit Catholic parish.

“Now they sell religious items, work in the community kitchen for the poor, do the cleaning, and are also employed as health sanitation staff.”

For the clergyman, dignity and economic self-reliance are the priorities. "The women working at the shrine support their families with the small salary they receive,” he explained.

"People of good will who visit our shrine also help these women from time to time. Two of them have school-age children; one of whom is supported by the Jesuits of the province of Chennai to continue his college studies.”

A disabled person works as the shrine’s daytime security.

The Morning Star Periyanayagi School, also located in Periyanayagi Maatha parish, Konankuppam, caters to 98 speech and hearing-impaired children aged between 7 and 17 years.

The school is run by three Sisters from the Immaculate Heart of Mary Mother of Jesus congregation in Pondicherry, also known as Pondi Blue Sisters.

“These Sisters are heroic in their service to speech and hearing-impaired children and their families,” Fr Devasagayaraj said.

The school is completely free. Through music, dance and other activities, the Sisters create a sense of inclusion and help children build strong sense of self-esteem.

Children with this type of problem often not only face the many difficulties of everyday life, but also suffer isolation and lack of opportunities.

“It is a challenge to educate children and run a residential school when all the Sisters do not know sign language,” Fr Devasagayaraj explained.

"Even more challenging is managing classes of grown children. Here children and young people are all treated equally and this is made possible thanks to donations,” he added.

The school staff is almost entirely female, and yesterday, International Women's Day, the parish priest stressed the great service the Sisters perform.

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