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India's cycling priest tends to his flock during lockdown

Father Vinod Kannatt wins praise as the ideal pastor for helping the sick and elderly

India's cycling priest tends to his flock during lockdown

Father Vinod Kannatt on his bicycle during his visits to his parishioners. (Photo supplied)

Published: September 02, 2020 04:54 AM GMT

Updated: September 02, 2020 04:56 AM GMT

A Catholic priest in eastern India is winning hearts, not for any major achievement but for his simplicity.

Father Vinod Kannatt, priest of Rajkot’s Junagadh Parish in Gujarat, cycles to the homes of his flock amid the coronavirus pandemic to care for the sick and elderly as he believes it is the ideal time to be with his people when no one is around.

“If I lock myself in my room fearing the virus outbreak, my ordination as a missionary priest is useless. Now is the time I need to be with my people to comfort them,” Father Kannatt — popularly known as the cycling priest — told UCA News.

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“We are alive now because of the care and support of Father Kannatt,” said John D’Souza, the father of two mentally disabled daughters aged 29 and 31.

One of them has been bedridden from birth and the other cannot stand and walk properly. Both of them cannot do anything without support from others.

D’Souza, a 58-year-old former employee of the state road transport corporation, managed to run the family with help of his wife, Espirancia, until three years ago. Since then she too is bedridden as she suffered a spinal injury following a fall.

Knowing the condition of the family, some neighbors and other well-wishers in the parish offered food and other support following the initiative of Father Kannatt.

But with the outbreak of Covid-19 in India, the neighbors' support stopped, leaving D'Souza disillusioned as he did not know how to manage his family with his 2,500-rupee (US$34) monthly pension.

“The money my husband gets is not enough for my medicine alone,” said Espirancia.

Father Kannatt, however, rose to the occasion and found additional resources to help them.

“Father visits us at least twice a week, assists my husband in setting our house in order and spends time with us,” Espirancia, 55, told UCA News.

“Our only outside contact after the pandemic outbreak is Father Kannatt,” she said, adding that the priest arranges money for medicine, food and other requirements.

“Father Kannatt takes me to hospital whenever required,” she said, adding that her husband cannot leave their daughters alone in the house. “We owe a great deal to the priest.”

Father Vinod Kannatt distributes communion to a family on one of his regular visits. 

'Pillar of support'

The D’Souza family is not the only one in the parish that relies on the priest.

“Father Kannatt is my pillar of support,” said Carmeline Josline Dias, an 86-year-old widow who lives alone. “I prepare curry and one of my good neighbors supplies me with roti,” she told UCA News.

“When I need to go to hospital or need any assistance, I take the help of Father Kannatt, who is always only a phone call away. Day or night, if I make a call, he reaches my home in less than 10 minutes.” 

She has lived alone since 2009 following the death of her husband, a former railway employee. She gets his pension and is therefore solvent.

Father Kannatt was first appointed to the parish in 2008 but was transferred in 2014. However, he was reappointed following the parishioners’ demand.

Since then, the 54-year old priest, a member of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, an indigenous congregation, has become a beacon of hope for everyone in the parish.

“The priest is so down to earth that he is approachable to anyone round the clock,” said Patrick David, 54, a member of the parish council.

“He distributed holy Eucharist three times in our homes after penitential service in the first three months of the countrywide lockdown, complying with Covid-19 protocols.

“We never expected the priest would visit our homes after the lockdown started, but he even completed the annual house blessings during the lockdown.

“The priest often enquires about people who are in distress and is ready to assist them with money or food or any other help they need during this Covid-19 crisis.”

Father Kannatt has not stopped celebrating Masses in church during the lockdown. The priest has pasted the name of each family member in the parish on the pews and offers Mass for them every day.

“I celebrate Mass every day like normal days, although no parishioner is present. The parish church is meant for offering Masses for the people and I do it every day for them. Their presence is acknowledged in their names written on the pews,” he explained.

Bishop Jose Chittooparambil of Rajkot is full of praise for the priest and his work, describing Father Kannatt as an “ideal pastor” who cares for his people.

“He is ready to offer any help to his people and that makes him different from other priests,” the prelate told UCA News.

Father Kannatt, however, maintains that he is simply performing his duties as a missionary priest.

“Now we are faced with a different situation where people are practically locked up in their houses on account of the coronavirus. If I get to know that a family in my parish is starving, I arrange food for them. If someone needs medicine I arrange it. If someone needs to be taken to hospital, I do it without waiting for anyone,” he said.

“As I work for people, they in return support me with the necessary funds and I have never faced any difficulty with money during this period. Once your intention is clear and strong, God will send his angels to support you.”

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