Church helping the neediest in COVID-19-affected Tamil Nadu
Hundreds of Dalits live near the Marian shrine in Periyanayagi, in Konankuppam parish. Under quarantine for a long time to contain the coronavirus, “many are more afraid of famine than of the virus.” Unemployment is causing depression and increasing domestic violence. The Catholic Church and Legio Mariae are helping out respecting people’s dignity.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The emergency situation created by COVID-19 has affected the whole world, but here in India, "we thought that our rural parishes would have had more time to prepare,” said Fr Devasagayaraj, rector of the Marian shrine in Periyanayagi, Konankuppam (Tamil Nadu).
Built by Italian missionary Fr Constantino Beschi, the shrine attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over India every year. The local parish is home “to about 350 families. Of these, 325 are Dalits,” explained the clergyman.
At the beginning, “people didn't think the virus could reach them so quickly, and when the government announced the lockdown [on 24 March], nobody believed it would last so long.”
In the end, “The crisis has affected the poor the most, and many are more afraid of famine than of the virus.” Traditionally, “people depend on daily wages from farm work or move to other States to look for work as labourers, waiters or in shops. Today however, such opportunities are gone.”
The local Church has taken action in many ways to provide concrete help, explained Fr Devasagayaraj. “On 20 April we opened a community kitchen to provide breakfast to young people under 15 and lunch for local seniors.
“Through social media we made an appeal, and many generous friends have helped us through donations. Legio Mariae volunteers cook and hand out the meals. In the beginning we fed more than a hundred people at a time.”
The parish also tried to provide some jobs to the neediest so that they could "earn some income and dignity from work. We set up small repairs or maintenance shop at the shrine, obviously after COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed."
Spiritual outreach was provided along practical works. “During Lent we celebrated Mass in safety and broadcast it on community social media.
"We celebrated the Via Crucis every Friday, and when we could, we brought the Eucharist to those who wanted it but could not leave home.
“We were able to do all this thanks to the teamwork and generosity of our supporters. But, ultimately, we did it thanks to the blessings of the Lord.”