04/28/2020, 14.52
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Church in Changanacherry helping migrant workers affected by epidemic

by Biju Veticad

In Kerala, the old Syro-Malabar diocese is especially helping internal migrants and rural communities during the lockdown. The Changanacherry Social Service Society reacted promptly to meet people's needs when the COVID-19 outbreak began.


Changanacherry (AsiaNews) – The Syro-Malabar Metropolitan Archdiocese of Changanacherry in southern India has always been on the front-line in times of crisis, ready to help the needy. This is the case now with the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown, according to Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Tharayil (pictured).

When, in the past two years, a large part of ​​the Archdiocese was hit hard by unprecedented flooding during the monsoon season, the local Church reacted in an exemplary way helping thousands of people. Similarly, this time the Changanacherry Social Service Society (CHASS) responded promptly to meet the needs of people affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Since 1996, CHASS has worked on the socio-economic development of rural communities through local organisation and welfare activities. This time, it has duly followed the precautionary measures taken by the Kerala State government and extended its support to the neediest confined at home by the country-wide lockdown.

Kerala is also home to 2.5 million internal migrants, mostly from West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. State authorities have set up 4,400 relief camps for more than 150,000 migrants stuck in Kerala because of the lockdown.

CHASS director Fr Joseph Kalarickal is determined to ensure support for these people. His organisation started COVID-19-related activities before the lockdown, such as providing orientation to bus and auto-rickshaw drivers, loaders, small traders in Changanacherry and its suburbs, about 5,000 people in all.

In the past few months, the focus has been on providing groceries, including rice and vegetables, to migrant workers who live in the archdiocese (pictured) in cooperation with the Kerala feeding programme.

As a result of the lockdown, Kerala's agricultural sector has been in a crisis. Rice and rubber are the state’s main crops. Mango and pineapple crops are also picked in March and April.  With the lockdown, interstate trade has been blocked preventing Kerala’s main products from moving.

For farmers working on leased land, this has been a particularly tough time as they cannot sell their crops. The government is helping them with regular supplies of food. The Archdiocese too has been helping in the relief work.

Indian migrants in the Persian Gulf region, the United States and Europe have also been impacted by the ​​economic crisis. Several of them are healthcare workers subjected to a lot of stress. Many others have lost their jobs abroad with major negative financial repercussions.

Wherever government supplies fall short, parishes take action. In previous crises, the Archdiocese showed that it had a role to play, like during the floods of 2018 and 2019.

Lastly, in an online interview, Bishop Tharayil, the lively young bishop-preacher, expressed concern for the spiritual life of the members of his archdiocese, noting that, despite churches being shut down, the celebration of Holy Week and preparation for faith in general were intense and broadly followed.

On average, 95 per cent of Catholics in Kerala regularly attend Sunday Mass, something hard to do via the Internet. Still, every crisis is an opportunity. Many Syro-Malabar bishops are using the COVID-19 period to impart meaningful teachings to the faithful, in particular on how to face the current scenario with hope.

“What we are doing is to encourage our people to become self-sufficient,” said Bishop Tharayil. “Everyone is encouraged to grow vegetables in available unused lands and become frugal. We need to observe strict financial discipline. Our role is to prepare our people spiritually and psychologically to confront this difficult moment.”

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