Indian Catholics go to great lengths to show mercy to neighbours
Concrete activities make way for an awareness of mercy that the Year of Mercy has created for the church in India
A mother and daughter stand in front of a new house built for their family by St. Francis Assisi Church in Kerala during the 2015-2016 Year of Mercy. (Photo by T.K. Devasia)
Although a Hindu, Eswaramangalam Sooraj will never forget the Jubilee Year of Mercy that Catholics all over the world observed this year. The 30-year-old man got a new lease of life when a bishop donated one of his kidneys.
Auxiliary Bishop Jacob Murickan of Pala had one of his kidneys transplanted to Sooraj on June 1. It made media headlines with Sooraj and his family lauding the bishop's kindness.
"When I decided to donate my kidney I wanted it to go to the most deserving person. I found Sooraj the most deserving among the list of matching recipients given to me after the tests," the 53-year-old bishop said, adding that Sooraj was poor and the lone breadwinner of his family.
Sooraj told ucanews.com that "living with the kidney of a bishop in my body is a big blessing for me. I consider this a divine intervention."
The kidney donation, believed to be the first by a bishop in India, gave new energy to a kidney donation movement that Father Davis Chiramel of Truchur Archdiocese started in 2009.
Fifteen priests and a nun have donated kidneys since the campaign’s launch. Recipients have included people belonging to different religions and castes, the office of the campaign told ucanews.com.
At least two priests and a nun are getting ready to donate their kidneys. "They are undergoing the screening tests now," the official added. A campaign by various church leaders is now in progress to to get people to pledge to donating their organs.
Pledging eyes to help the blind
Father George Kannanthanam, who founded Project Vision to encourage post-mortem cornea donation to help blind people, said the Year of Mercy helped him "reinforce" his commitment.
Inspired by the jubilee year, he approached different dioceses, parishes and institutions to take up his cause. "The response has been very positive," the priest said.
Nuns, priests, bishops and laypeople have pledged to donate their corneas after death, in keeping with the main teaching of the jubilee year, mercy.
The priest is continuing with his campaign as the number of donated corneas nationwide is falls short of the number of people in need of a transplant.
India has 15 million of the world’s 39 million visually impaired people. Some 3 million are waiting for a transplant and the donation situation is dismal, Father Kannanthanam said.
Similarly inspired, Kochupally Church in Neyyattinkara Diocese started accepting blood donations from parishioners from June.
"People from all walks of life, including many belonging to other religions, have been coming forward to donate their blood," said parish priest Father Valsan Jose.
"We have decided to continue the program as many hospitals are approaching us for blood. It is a big relief to people who are admitted to hospitals with serious illnesses. We will continue this," he added.
Housing the homeless
The church in Kerala "identified the construction of homes for the poor as a major activity for the Year of Mercy," said Father Varghese Vallikatt, deputy secretary of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council.
The trend continues across India. For example, Ujjain Diocese in central India built some 25 houses for homeless people in their area, the majority of them went to non-Christians.
Bishop Sebastian Vadakkel of Ujjain told ucanews.com that people are encouraged when they help the poor.
"We are planning to build another 25 houses this year, and if more donations come we will continue the project," he said.
The government census of 2011 showed that India has 1.77 million homeless people, the majority of them living in cities, the peripheries, pavements or shacks.
However, the figures should be treated as an estimate as the homeless population are hard to track down.
Ministry among prisoners
The Indian church’s agency for prisoners, the Prison Ministry of India, "went out of its way to do something extra for prisoners" in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, said Sister Archangel, Delhi state coordinator of the ministry.
In Tihar Prison, India’s largest on the outskirts of New Delhi, hundreds are languishing because of their inability to pay their bail.
The Catholic ministry set a target of helping at least 100 people legally and financially get bail. "By November we had helped release some 60 prisoners," said the nun.
Their ministry does not usually include helping people with money. But they "decided to help with bail bonds because of the Year of Mercy. We collected donations and our superiors also helped in finding money," she said.
The Year of Mercy has concluded but "we will continue this work. Our door is not closed," Sister Archangel said.
Government data collected last year showed that more than half of those imprisoned in India are poor and uneducated. Activists say it is because they they have no money to hire lawyers to find the way out of the complex legal system.
A new culture of mercy
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference said while "these concrete activities" of mercy are important but "the most important is an awareness of mercy that the year has created in the church in India."
"A new understanding of being Church, a new culture of mercy has been introduced. And, that understanding and culture will continue to promote new acts of mercy in the Indian church,” he said. Parishes and families have got new "energy and spiritual strength” to continue the acts of mercy.
Pope Francis declared the "Year of Mercy" encouraging people to "be merciful like the Father." Pope Francis declared an "Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy" beginning Dec. 8 on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Jubilee Year of Mercy which ended on Nov. 20, the feast of Christ the King.
Pope Francis recently urged each and every person to perform at least one work of mercy on a daily basis. All it takes is just one person carrying out one simple, loving act of mercy every day to start a revolution and stamp out the "virus of indifference," media reported the pope as saying.
Sharing God's mercy is not about expending a huge amount of effort or performing "superhuman" acts, he said during his general audience Oct. 12 at St. Peter's Square.
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