20 October 2011
Anna Valavanal (left) and her sister, Irin, visit the Deivadan sisters and residents in Thankamany. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In the July 2010 issue of ONE Peter Lemieux reported on the fearless work of the Deivadan Sisters in Kerala, India and the community that stands with them:
Siji Valavanal and her two daughters visit the Deivadan Home in Thankamany, in the Idukki District, a few afternoons each week. Established four years ago, the home takes in abandoned elderly women. On those days, Mrs. Valavanal picks up her daughters, 5-year-old Anna and 12-year-old Irin, from school and takes them to the market, where they purchase sacks of rice, tapioca, vegetables and other staples. They then head over to the Deivadan Home, knock on the door and offer the groceries. But more important for Mrs. Valavanal, she and her daughters stay awhile and visit with some of the residents.
Anna, wearing a bright pink-checkered dress, and Irin, wearing a pretty green dress, approach the bedside of a reclining resident. The frail woman sits up, reaches her hands out and clutches Irin’s hands. Irin smiles. She then gently caresses Anna’s cheeks. Anna blushes. The elderly woman beams.
On any given day, visitors drop in unannounced. Some bring sacks of rice, while others offer financial support. Together, as a community, they keep afloat these homes for the abandoned elderly. Some, such as Mrs. Valavanal and her daughters, have adopted the residents as additional parents and grandparents and stop by regularly.
“We’re happy when we come here. We sit and enjoy their company, feel their pain and hear their problems,” explains Mrs. Valavanal.
“Nowadays, society is always looking at the top level, not the low levels. Most people want to make relations with those with status, not to serve those in need. I want to create in my daughters’ minds the desire to serve others,” she says, echoing the wisdom of Father Kaippenplackal’s mother. For that lesson, Mrs. Valavanal could not have found her daughters better teachers than the Deivadan Sisters.
For more from this story, see, Fearless Grace by Peter Lemieux.
13 October 2011
Tags: India Sisters Caring for the Elderly
In this unpublished photo from the story, A Wounded Land, a boy plays in the rice paddy field by Kuttanadu, Kerala. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Last week the India Ink blog on the NY Times’ web site posed an interesting question about the state of India’s poor: Has Globalization Helped India’s Poor?
Like the dog that didn’t bark, the study’s principal finding is a non-result: there is no systematic relationship between trade liberalization and inequality in India. Rather, a whopping 90 percent of inequality reflects differences at the level of individual households within states or within urban vs. rural areas, rather than between these groupings. And widening the lens from the household to the community, more than 60 percent of total inequality is found at the local level, within urban blocks and rural villages.
These highly localized roots of inequality have little to do with inter-state or rural-urban differences, to say nothing of trade or other international factors. Rather, they stem from factors that labor economists have long understood to be the drivers of inequality: education, work experience, family background, and, crucially in the Indian case, caste and ethnic differences.
In the January 2011 issue of ONE Peter Lemieux explored the financial crisis affecting the agricultural industry in Kerala, and the Syro–Malabar Catholic Church’s efforts to assist those affected.
The seeds of Wayanad’s agricultural crisis were sowed in the early 1980’s, when local farmers began converting their traditional, more diversified rice paddy farms into fields of one or two perennial cash crops, such as coffee, pepper, tea, cardamom, rubber and areca palm. From 1982 to 1999, land used for traditional paddies shrank by about 75 percent. Today, cash crops cover more than 80 percent of all agricultural land in the district.
While the conversion has made some farmers relatively rich, the trade off has been disastrous for most as well as for the district’s entire agricultural sector. In 1999, the Indian government began to liberalize its trade policies, opening its markets to international competition. Almost overnight, farmers in Wayanad witnessed the prices of chief crops, such as pepper, coffee and tea, plummet as cheaper produce from other countries, particularly Vietnam, flooded the market. In that year alone, pepper, a crop grown by most farmers in Wayanad, suffered a price drop of 76 percent.
For more from this story see, A Wounded Land by Peter Lemieux.
7 October 2011
Tags: India Kerala Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Farming/Agriculture Economic hardships
Yosef Hallegua blows the shofar in a synagogue in Cochin. (photo: Ellen Goldberg)
Today marks Yom Kippur, the holiest and most solemn day of the year for the Jewish community. It is also known as the Day of Atonement and is traditionally marked by a 25-hour period of fasting and praying. The shofar (pictured above) is blown in synagogues to mark the end of the fast at Yom Kippur.
In the July 2006 issue of ONE Nathan Katz reported on the dwindling Jewish community in Cochin, India:
Visiting Jews often are confounded by the unique liturgy of Cochin. As waves of immigrants came to Cochin from Persia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and even Poland and Italy, each left its imprint on Cochin’s prayer service. Some composed liturgical songs in fluent Hebrew, known as piyyutim. Scribes collated these songs and copied them into manuscript books, many of which remain in use to this day.
Midway through the prayer services in Cochin, worshipers will set down the Sephardic books from Israel and open these older songbooks. Most do not need to, however. They know the songs by heart.
Within the temple’s walls are the famous hand-painted floor tiles from China, Belgian chandeliers, prayer books from Israel and Torahs copied by local scribes. Atop one of the Torahs rests a magnificent 22-karat golden crown, given to the congregation by the Maharajah of Travancore in 1803.
The ancient copperplates, bequeathing autonomy at Cranganore, are stored in the synagogue’s ark along with Torahs and a huge shofar (ceremonial horn). Characteristic of Kerala’s unique synagogue architecture is the presence of a second bima (pulpit) upstairs in the women’s section, from which the Torah is read during prayer services.
For more about the Cochin Jewish community see The Last Jews of Cochin.
Learn more about the Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur, on the web site JewishEncyclopedia.com.
29 September 2011
Tags: India Jews
M.L. Thomas, Regional Director for India; Thomas Varghese, Vice President for India and Northeast Africa; Bishop Joseph Kunnath, C.M.I.; and Msgr. John Kozar, President, CNEWA. (Photo: Deacon Greg Kandra)
Bishop Joseph Kunnath from Adilabad, India, dropped by the offices of CNEWA in New York Thursday afternoon. He was returning from a mission appeal to Lansing, Michigan, and stopped by to meet Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWAs new president, and M.L. Thomas, the regional director for India.
Bishop Joseph was eager to share news of some remarkable developments in his homeland: the 15,000 new Catholics who live in his diocese, he said, have all made a commitment to become evangelists. “They will come with us to each new village,” he said, explaining that they will be venturing into a region of southern India that is not Christian.
Msgr. Kozar added, “When he says ‘new village,’ he means NEW. These towns were built from nothing.”
When asked what was attracting people to the faith, the bishop replied simply, “It is the Spirit.”
He explained: “They see us praying and they want to join us.” Bishop Joseph added that the people dont ask for anything except faith.
9 September 2011
Tags: India CNEWA
Medical Sisters of St. Joseph fill buckets for the evening wash at their house of formation in Kothamangalam, Kerala, India. (photo: Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Our beloved Sister Christian Molidor will be retiring from the agency in a few days. With that we’ll also be retiring her biweekly email message, “Greetings from Sister Christian.” In her most recent message, she leaves us with some inspiring words of wisdom:
Manifest your loyalty in word and deed, keep a promise, find the time; forgo a grudge, forgive an enemy; listen, try to understand, examine your demands on others and think first of someone else.
Appreciate. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little, then laugh a little more, deserve confidence, fight malice and decry complacency.
Express your gratitude, go to church, welcome a stranger; brighten the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth.
Speak your love; speak it again. Speak it still once again.
Among her many gifts, Sister Christian is also a talented photojournalist. During her nearly 30-year tenure with us, she captured thousands of images from CNEWA’s world (like the one above). She was eager to share her gift with others and we’d like to share it with you. We will feature a Sister Christian photo from our archive in the ‘Picture of the Day’ post for the next few days.
Read more of Sister Christian’s heartfelt words in her final email message.
7 September 2011
Tags: India Sisters Kerala Vocations (religious)
Saint Mary’s Port Church in Kollom, Kerala, India, one of the eight founded by St. Thomas, features a mural of Christ and St. Thomas. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Journalist Sean Sprague explored St. Thomas’s influence on southern India's Christians in the March 2010 story, In the Footsteps of St. Thomas.
Culled from the communities he founded, Thomas ordained priests and deacons to minister to their spiritual and temporal needs. Eventually, the heirs of St. Thomas became dependent on the Church of the East — an Eastern Syriac church founded by Thomas and centered in the Persian Empire. The catholicos-patriarch of the Church of the East regularly sent bishops to southern India to ordain priests and deacons and regulate ecclesial life.
Check out more of Sean Sprague’s photos from St. Thomas’s path in the image gallery from the same story, St Thomas’s Influence.
Over the weekend two dozen Indian bishops visited the Vatican and had “heart-to-heart” talks with Pope Benedict XVI regarding, the religious nature of Indian people, discrimination against Catholics, interreligious dialogue and evangelization, as reported by the Catholic News Service today:
“The Holy Father was particularly interested in our efforts at interreligious dialogue,” [Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai] said. While there have been acts of intimidation and violence against Christians in India, the church is building bridges with members of other religions and “collaborating together to build peace, to build a better India, to see how we could bring God back into society.”
Read the rest of this story in the “News” section of our web site.
1 September 2011
Tags: India Pope Benedict XVI Interreligious Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Children pray during liturgy in the small village of Santhithadam, Kerala, India.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
Santhithadam means “Valley of Peace” in Malayalam, the language of Kerala.
Not far from the border with Tamil Nadu and set on the high Attapaddy plateau, the area was thinly populated by scattered tribes for centuries. Then, about 30 years ago, 76 families settled in Santhithadam from the crowded south, including 40 Syro-Malabar Catholic families from Kottayam, Kerala’s Christian heartland.
Journalist Sean Sprague reported about this small village in Kerala back in 2003 in the July-August edition of ONE (which was then known as CNEWA WORLD).
Today the Catholic News Service reported on a parish in Kerala offering financial incentives to large Catholic families, in the midst of worries over the shrinking Catholic population:
The plan to increase family size runs counter to a previous initiative by the federal government, which encouraged residents to make two children the norm for families.
Read more of this story on the CatholicNews.com
24 August 2011
Tags: India Children Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Locals living near Kerala’s Idukki Dam, the largest of its kind in Asia, collect water at a well. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
“In Kerala, poor management of natural resources, shortsighted agricultural practices and political inaction are pushing the limits. How is it possible that Kerala — which receives an annual average rainfall of more than ten feet, nearly three times higher than the national average — has the lowest per capita water availability in India, even lower than the northwestern state of Rajasthan, home of the Thar Desert?”
Peter Lemieux’s article, Rain Rich, Water Poor from the May 2010 edition of ONE, was also a part of a package that won a 2nd place Catholic Press Association Award for “Best Multiple Picture Package” among other awards.
To gain even more insight into the water scarcity issue in Kerala, check out our multimedia feature, Water Woes.
16 August 2011
Tags: India Kerala Water
Sister Kirti Lawrence tutors children at the Anugraha home with a battery–powered floodlight.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)
In this audio clip from my interview with writer Peter Lemieux for the July edition of ONE, he discusses Sister Kirti Lawrence and her dedication to the
children of Mumbai’s slums.
Check out the multimedia feature “A
Quick Walk With Sister Leema Rose” and the story by Peter Lemieux, ‘Slumdog’
Sisters in the July edition of ONE.
Tags: India Children Sisters Women in India