Cleanliness drive to be relaunched as illnesses plague diocese

2009-09-01 17:00:22
Few people responded when a southern Indian diocese launched a cleanliness drive last year. However, things changed this year after hundreds came down with various sicknesses.

 Bishop Paul Chittilappilly

With the onset of the monsoon season in June, ailments such as Chikungunya disease, viral fever, swine flu, dengue fever and leptospirosis, known as "rat fever," have rattled Thamarassery diocese that covers Kozhikode (formerly Calicut) district in Kerala state. More than 20,000 people were reportedly affected in the district in July alone, with nearly 70 percent of them hit by Chikungunya disease, a mosquito-induced illness characterized by fever, rashes and severe joint pains. "The various forms of fever have paralyzed Church life in the diocese and many people were unable to go to work even after two months," says Bishop Paul Chittilappilly of Thamarassery. The prelate told UCA News that the diocese will relaunch a campaign to educate its people about keeping their environment clean. "Although the campaign started in 2008, it did not receive sufficient response from the laity," he said, adding that now people have realized the importance of a clean environment. "We will give the campaign a new thrust after our people regain their health." Since June, Chikungunya disease has "spread like wildfire and soon one or two members in every family became bedridden," the bishop noted. In some families, all members came down with the illness. Layman Santhosh Kunnath welcomes the diocesan plan to relaunch the campaign. "The Church has to teach ... its people to keep their surroundings and common places free of garbage," he said. He added that people in Kerala are "very much conscious about personal hygiene but care little for social hygiene." Jerish Kocheril, a Catholic youth, says he believes everyone will join the campaign now in the wake of the outbreak of illnesses. Manoj Kumar, a Hindu and a Chikungunya victim, said he wants people to forget their religious differences and work together to clear mosquito breeding areas. "Otherwise, each monsoon will see our health and wealth being affected," warned Kumar, who is suffering from severe pains in his legs and joints. On Aug. 21, the diocese´s 116 parishes observed a day of prayer for deliverance from sickness. People fasted, prayed special prayers and visited the Blessed Sacrament. "Medicine could not remove the pain. So we decided to observe a prayer day to invoke God´s grace for each family," Bishop Chittilappilly explained. "It was a call for spiritual resistance and all the parishes responded well." He observed that most people started to attend church again toward the end of August, as they got better. "Mass attendance was very low for the past two months," said Father Thomas Vattottutharappel, parish priest of St. Mary´s Church in Marudonkara, where Chikungunya disease was first reported in the diocese. The church was full during the special day for prayer, the priest observed. Father Jose Manimala Tharappil, pastor of St. Antony´s Church Paroppady, said the fevers affected 90 percent of his parish´s 600 families. "No effective medicine was available ... so we resorted to prayer."
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