04/19/2021, 15.11
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Award to Mary Goretti Xalxo for outstanding work for Tribal migrants

by Nirmala Carvalho

She takes care of migrant workers left penniless by the lockdown, far from home. For her work, the Archdiocese of Bombay acknowledged her defence of life by giving her the Lily and Rose Award. The pandemic has led to “alarming levels of vulnerability, indignity and exclusion.”

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The Diocesan Human Life Commission (DHLC) of the Archdiocese of Bombay (Mumbai) gave Mary Goretti Xalxo the Lily and Rose Award for her work with tribal migrant workers.

The prize, which acknowledges people who defend life, was established in 2000 by Father Mathew Habiger at Human Life International’s 7th Asia-Pacific Congress in Mumbai.

“The ceremony was virtual due to the ongoing pandemic,” explained Pascoal Carvalho, a DHLC member, speaking to AsiaNews. For him, “it is essential that we continue to recognise and celebrate life around us.”

“Her selfless service to tribal migrants had to be recognise. COVID-19 showed us their vulnerability, pushing them to the brink of starvation amid alarming levels of vulnerability, indignity and exclusion.

“Mary Goretti's contribution raised awareness of the laity’s missionary service. Inspired by the Gospel, they carry out works of charity, justice, peace and solidarity for the most vulnerable”.

Speaking via Zoom to the participants of the ceremony, Mary Goretti Xalxo described her mission.

“I have been a professional social worker for 35 years, and I have used my skills to serve society as best I could. On many occasions I had the opportunity of meeting tribal migrants from the Chota Nagpur[*] who live in Mumbai. Most work as maids, labourers, drivers or in the informal economy.”

Her work with tribal people reflects her own life. “I was born into the Khadia tribe and I married an ethnic Oraon,” she explained. “I came to Mumbai to study in 1985. At that time, hardly anyone openly claimed to be of tribal origin because of prejudice.

“Tribal migrants are the most vulnerable section of the population in Mumbai. They have no identity, even as a scheduled tribe. They are simply domestic workers. For this reason, with my family and the help of then Auxiliary Bishop Agnelo Gracias we decided to work towards preserving their identity and protect their human rights.”

One concrete action concerned marriage. “I realised that many couples lived together without being married, for cultural reasons but also for difficulties with the Church,” Xalxo noted. “These couples had children who were hidden, not participating in the Eucharist and other celebrations. Their number kept growing. So in 2013, together with the Archdiocese of Mumbai, we started to organise collective weddings on Sundays.”

Helping tribal migrants has become particularly urgent with the pandemic. “With the sudden lockdown, a year ago, migrant workers turned into refugees overnight.

“With the Redemptorists, we founded PAHUNCH, a ministry to reach out and feed migrants, and arrange trips back to their villages so that they did not have to walk thousands of kilometres. As a team we protected some 10,000 people from chaos, anxiety and hunger. This work continues. Our next goal is to build a network of contacts in home villages and parishes.”

Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar was one of the first to congratulate Mary Goretti Xalxo. “You deserve this award,” he said. “God sees and knows better our sincerity and genuineness than we know ourselves. May He bless you and allow you to continue this service for a long time.”

[*] Chota Nagpur is a plateau that straddles several India states (Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, and Odisha) in eastern India.

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