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In the morning, before the faithful arrived, Father Edison visited some of the villages in the area. The villages are poor, typically a collection of huts clustered around a well.

“There are mainly low–caste Hindus in the area,” Father Edison said.

Bhorathannoor Ambeaker Harigen Colony is home to 700 families, 100 of whom are Catholic and the remainder Hindu. Most of the Catholics entered the church about 10 years ago, the priests said.

The villagers live in small brick homes – they have one or two rooms each and the roofs are made of coconut leaves. There is a lone, tiny convenience store in the village, which sells a few staple goods and packets of candy that are popular with the children.

“There is a general lack of education in the area,” Father John said back at St. Mary’s. “There is a lot of unemployment and most people are small farmers who work only here and there throughout the year. That is why we try to introduce programs such as basket weaving or making other handicrafts.”

In Kerala’s larger cities – Trivandrum and Cochin – the poor and unemployed can be found outside libraries reading the local newspaper, staying abreast of the political scene. But in rural areas, many villagers are illiterate.

“The government provides some primary education, but then these people are abandoned,” Father John said. “We go to these neglected places and try to meet their needs, organize classes and training sessions in basket weaving, but what these people really need is a school.”

As priests, it is important that they respect the tribal traditions of the people they serve, Father Edison said. “We cannot change these customs that they have.

They have been practicing some of their traditions for many generations, traditions that may come from Hinduism or have pagan origins. But we can incorporate Christ into their lives.

“That is why they allow us to bring them the teachings of Jesus,” Father Edison continued. “We are not seen as outsiders, trying to make slaves out of them. We are part of the community and help them with many needs, spiritual and otherwise.”

At St. Mary’s, Father Edison’s Sunday liturgy was set to begin. Two hundred feet from the church, children finished their Bible lessons in an exposed–brick–and–concrete classroom, cramming onto low wooden benches. Nearby, rice was cooking in a huge caldron suspended above an open fire. Coconut trees dotted the compound, and roosters scampered about.

Gradually, the parishioners filed into St. Mary’s, leaving their shoes outside. The women sat on the right, the men on the left. The division of the sexes is a common feature in much of India, not just in church.

Father Edison stood before them as Father John sat with the congregation and translated. “He is telling them about the importance of Sunday liturgy,” Father John whispered.

“There are many obstacles to coming, I know,” Father Edison said. “But you must overcome them and come to church so that you may have a union with God.”

Gently, and with a smile, he also chided the congregation for its behavior in church. “You must come on time, not during the middle of my preaching. And do not use this time to sleep.”

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Tags: India Poor/Poverty Village life Priests Syro-Malankara Catholic Church