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Autumn, 2016
Volume 42, Number 3
6 September 2016
M.L. Thomas

Father Palathingal holds a young HIV patient named Christy, who never leaves the priest’s side.
(photo: K.L. Simon)

Several years ago, ONE took readers to a hospice in India offering care to AIDS patients.

That was when many readers first got to know a priest who worked with CNEWA for several years to support many of the unfortunate poor in India: the Rev. Varghese Palathingal.

He is known for his selfless and dedicated service to humanity, especially the marginalized.

His 25 years of service for the less fortunate, the abandoned, H.I.V.-positive patients and the homeless poor are remarkable and truly heroic.

To begin with, Father Palathingal founded the first community care and support center for the H.I.V./AIDS patients in South India, the Mar Kundukulam Memorial Research and Rehabilitation Complex.

He was able to help nearly 2,000 H.I.V.-positive patients, including children. The effort and risks taken by him had a significant impact. He gave peace and shelter to the patients who were about to die or had attempted suicide.

He not only cared for these persons but also provided rehabilitation for those who were regaining their health after treatment.

Father Palathingal educated the innocent children of the H.I.V./AIDS patients, those who were rejected from the regular school academies. He cared for these children in different ways.

First, he introduced prayer as therapy. He found this therapy is very useful for the patients to share their feelings and emotions; it brought them peace.

He also gave tremendous care to those who are mentally handicapped.Since 1987 he has been the Director and Principal of Pope Paul Mercy Home, a residential training center for those living with mental handicaps.

Every year nearly 500 mentally handicapped students get training from this special school without any discrimination. Father Palathingal introduced the practice of teaching these student in a natural, home-like setting. Through such specialized training, the students were given a chance to improve themselves and be independent.At present, more than 6,000 persons have received training.

He also began new self employment opportunities for these disabled children. More than 500 boys and girls are employed in such fields as horticulture, masonry, gardening, cooking and printing, among others.

Father Palathingal is also a father figure for the destitute who cannot afford even one meal a day and who have no place to stay. Through a Noon Meal Program under a charitable society called Abhayam, started in 1996, he has been able to provide meals for almost 200 needy people every day in and around Thrissur. Now he chairs the organization. Through Abhayam, Father Varghese has been able to feed close to 480,000 hungry children so far.

Through the center for persons living with H.I.V./AIDS, Father Varghese Palathingal has worked to reduce the number of suicides among the patients, prolonging their lifespan. Usually these patients are rejected from the hospitals after first aid treatment.

But thanks to Father Palathingal, more patients are finding healing and hope. As he noted a few years ago:

“Most of them have attempted suicide. But after reaching the hospice, we find all of them yearn for life. They live happily though death awaits them. Our aim and motto is to give them a respectful and peaceful death.”

Read more about his work in Hoping Against Hope from the July-August 2004 edition of ONE.

11 August 2016
M.L. Thomas

Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil was a leading force in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in India.
(photo: Sean Sprague)

Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church was a good friend of and advocate for CNEWA in India until his death in 2011.

“All churches, East or West, have equal dignity and the same rights and obligations to preach the Gospel and address injustices” he said in an interview with CNEWA in 2000. Our story about the Syro-Malabar Church noted:

In the true spirit of Christ, a Syro-Malabar army of priests, religious and lay persons offer spiritual sustenance, moral education and social service programs to those in need.

Prior to his appointment as the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Mar Varkey Vithayathil, C.S.s.R., worked in various apostolates for more than 30 years. From his residence in Ernakulam, Kerala, this soft-spoken man explains that, after Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, the Syro-Malabar is the second largest of the 22 Eastern Catholic churches; its influence is great.

...Centered in Ernakulam, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church reaches out to her country’ poor through an extensive social services network. Many of these programs receive direct support from CNEWA.

...Micro-credit programs encourage poor families to save their money; small loans offer women the opportunity to start their own businesses. A house-building program uses direct grants or loans to allow families to obtain basic housing. Health programs, latrine construction, safe drinking water, garbage recycling, biogas generators — which generate cooking gas from farm animal manure — smokeless stoves, organic farming and composting, AIDS awareness, vocational skills training, homes for the aged, orphanages and emergency disaster relief are just some of the many programs and services offered.

A driving force behind all of this for many years was Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil.

Born in Kerala in 1927, he joined the Redemptorists and was ordained a priest in 1954. After studying canon law in Rome, he returned to India to teach.

In, 1996 he became the apostolic administrator of the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church and of the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly. In 1997, he was named a major archbishop. In 2001, the pope elevated him to the College of Cardinals.

CNEWA had the opportunity to welcome Mar Varkey Vithayathil, to our New York office in 1998, shortly before he was named a Major Archbishop. In 2001, he became a cardinal.

It was during Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil’s tenure that CNEWA opened its regional office for India in Ernakulam in 2003. Cardinal Vithayathil extended whole-hearted support to our programs and projects.

“Seventy-three percent of the priests and religious working in the Latin dioceses in northern India hail from the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church,” Mar Varkey said in his interview in 2000. A large number of Syro-Malabar clergy work in Latin missions throughout India and the world — and the cardinal worked zealously to carry out the Church's ministry wherever possible.

In addition to his work as an archbishop, Mar Varkey was a member of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

As CNEWA marks 90 years of service to the world, we fondly remember the heroic support of our friends and partners in India, especially Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, whose generous spirit still inspires us.

2 August 2016
M.L. Thomas

The Rev. Jose Manjiyil, C.S.T., seen in this file photo from 1998, has worked for decades to give dignity to the poor in India. (photo: Ilene Perlman)

As a Catholic missionary, the Rev. Jose Manjiyil, C.S.T. spent 30 years of his priestly life in the mission territory of Gorakhpur-Nepal Province of Little Flower Congregation (known as the C.S.T. Fathers).

Ordained a priest in 1986, Father Jose is also a lawyer and educator; he holds a Ph.D. in civil law, along with degrees in Arts and Education.

Through the years, he has been a good companion of CNEWA. His relationship with CNEWA began in 1997, when we provided financial assistance for constructing Mount Carmel Church in Gorakhpur.

In the years that followed, St. Mary’s Primary School was upgraded to a Hindi medium school for the poor children of the villages recognized by the Uttar Pradesh Government, thanks to Father Jose’s hard work and the generosity of American donors through CNEWA.

But healing the sick in Gorakhpur was Father Jose’s main concern. CNEWA supported his mission — and he received acclaim for his efforts.

He was honored with the Best Social Worker award in 1998 by the District Collector and Magistrate of Gorakhypur, Uttar Pradesh, India. The same year, he was featured in our magazine, describing his efforts to help the poor:

“The problem we face is poverty,” says Father Jose. “You know it, but you don’t feel it. If you ask a mother to add just one more spoonful of medicine to help a child, she will answer, ‘How can I? Where should I get it?’

“You can feel that poverty when you go to the village. We say you have to do this or that to prevent a disease and, if the people are poor, we will give them the medicines. But you still have to get them to want to do it.”

Diocesan social workers go from village to village to offer health care and teach villagers basic hygiene. They teach mothers natural methods of family planning and administer immunization programs; the task is gargantuan and, at times, frustrating.

“Our goal is empowerment,” says Father Jose, “to teach people how to keep clean and treat problems at home.

Father Jose’s hard work has brought smiles to many who persevered in difficult moments of life. He has attracted a beautiful blend of young and old. He cherishes them all. To quote him, “Old is gold, youth is bold. When you put both together, products are sold.”

CNEWA continues its support in Gorakhpur today among the poor — providing faith formation, help with hygiene and sanitation, assistance with finances, and pastoral outreach programs.

Today, Father Jose is the Director of Educational Institutions under the Little Flower Congregation, which runs more than 60 schools, technical schools and colleges.

He has been a great asset to the Catholic Church in India — and is a true CNEWA hero.

26 February 2015
M.L. Thomas

Samundar Singh, left, pays tribute at a memorial ceremony for Sister Rani Maria Vattalil, whom he stabbed to death in 1995. Flanking Mr. Singh are Sister Selmi Paul and Stephen Vattalil, siblings of Sister Rani, who have offered him forgiveness. (photo: M.L. Thomas)

On 25 February 1995, while riding a bus in central India, Samundar Singh stabbed Franciscan Clarist Sister Rani Maria Vattalil over 50 times in plain view of 60 passengers. Mr. Singh was tried and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison. While serving his sentence, Sister Selmi Paul, F.C.C., his victim’s sister, visited Mr. Singh, forgiving him and calling him “brother.” Profoundly touched by this gesture, Mr. Singh repented and converted to Christianity. After 11 years in prison, Mr. Singh was released as a result of the petition signed by Sister Rani’s family, the provincial of the Clarist Congregation and the bishop of Indore, offering their forgiveness in a powerful message of Christian love.

Yesterday, Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, led a ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of Sister Rani’s death. Samundar Singh attended, praising Indian Christians as “India’s hope,” remarks all the more relevant in light of recent Hindu fundamentalist attacks on Christians.

Sister Rani Maria received the title, “servant of God,” in 2007. The cause for her beatification and sainthood is being considered.

Tags: India Violence against Christians Sisters Indian Christians Reflections/Inspirational

11 October 2011
M.L. Thomas

Through the Holy Family Ashaniwas, Riya has received an education and now looks forward to her wedding day.

In a marvelous and blessed development, the Holy Family Ashaniwas Child Welfare Center of New Delhi is preparing to celebrate a wedding.

Riya was orphaned early in life and taken in by the Holy Family sisters at the age of 7. Now she has completed 10th grade and is attending a vocational training course. Ishwar Singh, her betrothed, works as a lead maintenance engineer in a city college and hails from a prominent family.

Sister Lilly Chirayath, the director of the center, has been busy making arrangements for the wedding. Customarily, the bride must be provided with household articles, so Sister Lilly has purchased furniture, dress materials, a sewing machine and crockery to present to Riya. This was made possible through the assistance of local benefactors determined to ensure that her child will not face the same conditions that she herself did.

Riya is the sixth girl to become married while in the care of the Holy Family Center. The other five girls will be attending Riya’s wedding with their families.

CNEWA proudly counts itself among those lending support to the Center.

To learn more about Holy Family Ashaniwas, visit their website.

Sister Lilly Chirayath sits with the children for whom the Center provides shelter and the opportunity for a better life.

Tags: India Education Orphans/Orphanages

3 August 2011
M.L. Thomas

M.L. Thomas, CNEWA's Regional Director for India, brings us a success story:

Shoney was a handicapped child in one of CNEWA’s sponsored institutions: Home of Faith, an orphanage in Ernakulam. Through the organization, he was able to undergo an operation to straighten his deformed leg, a handicap that he had been born with.

He received an education and from there he joined the seminary in 1997. His father and mother died while he was in seminary studies.

Despite enduring numerous tragic events and conditions, he has nonetheless striven ever forward. His efforts were not in vain; he was ordained into the priesthood on 20 April 2010. Now known as Father George Shoney Kandathinkara, he works for the mission diocese of Ujjain. Father Kandathinkara contacted us to offer his thanks to CNEWA for the support that enabled him to transform his life, and rise from a poor, handicapped boy to a Catholic priest. He especially thanks Mr. James Y. Rahm, of Huntington Beach, CA, a benefactor of CNEWA who sponsored him as a needy child.

Tags: India