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India

Synod of India's Eastern Church seeks to fight hunger, poverty

Parishes are urged to focus on improving the economic conditions of Catholics

Synod of India's Eastern Church seeks to fight hunger, poverty

Cardinal George Alencherry, the major archbishop of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church, attends its first-ever online synod, which ended on Aug. 22. (Photo supplied)

Alarmed by the rise of poverty in India in the aftermath of the Covid-19 lockdown, bishops of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church have urged their parishes to "identify and feed the hungry" in their areas.

The call came on Aug. 22 at the end of the church's 28th synod attended by 61 of its 62 bishops.

The meeting was held online as the pandemic prevented many bishops from traveling to the church's base in Kerala state for the highest decision-making gathering.

"The call is not restricted to serve Catholics. The parishes should take care of everyone who is hungry in the parish area," said Father Alex Onampally, the newly appointed secretary of the church's media commission.

He said the bishops were "seriously concerned about the alarming spread of poverty and hunger" after the Covid-19 pandemic began to spread, forcing the government to impose a lockdown on March 25.

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The Syro-Malabar Church has already spent more than 533 million rupees (US$7.5 million) to help to people hit by poverty and hunger because of the pandemic. The synod called for more concerted efforts to assist those in hunger and poverty.

"The situation is so serious that these problems cannot be met by the government's resources alone. The church has to get involved in alleviating the suffering of the people," the bishops said in an official statement.

"Every parish and organization of the church has to pay special attention to the needs of the people, irrespective of caste, creed or race, around them."

The bishops asked their parishioners to sacrifice their food to find resources to feed the hungry.

"Every parish should search and find the hungry in their neighborhood. Practical and efficient methods should be adopted for alleviating their hunger," they said.

They said this difficult time is "an opportunity to be with the poor and the destitute … and to put into practice the vision of Pope Francis to become a church of the poor for the poor."

The synod also reminded parishes and institutions of the church that "it is their duty to use their income to satiate the hunger of the poor."

The synod also appealed to state and federal governments to waive the interest on agriculture loans as farmers were facing one of the worst crises following price crashes for their produce, loss of crops due to pest attacks, and calamities amid the pandemic.

The prelates also urged the government to support prices of agriculture produce to save farmers from their distress.

"The farmers are in deep crisis. They are even unable even to pay back their agriculture loans and they need support from the government. Their survival is at stake," Father Onampally said.

He said Cardinal George Alencherry, the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, wanted his fellow bishops to make "radical changes" in the church's pastoral ministry in the wake of the pandemic interfering with pastoral activities.

"Until now, the church was very actively involved in the educational and healthcare areas, and now it is time for us to shift our focus to augmenting the economic conditions of the faithful, thereby contributing to the progress of the country," Cardinal Alencherry told the synod.

Besides bishops serving in India, Syro-Malabar bishops in the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia took part in the online synod.

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