Friday, October 25, 2013

Fevers and heavy rains hit Andhra Pradesh

This clip from Telegu-language newspaper Eenadu shows
devastating floods in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
Until fevers and heavy rains slowed his crew, Fr. Varghese and a total of 70 volunteers from Holy Family Mission were rebuilding homes partially or entirely swept away by Cyclone Phailin. Hitting nearly two weeks ago, Phailin was the strongest cyclone ever recorded over the Indian Ocean.
Fr.'s camera was swept away in floods
last Fall, so he can only share clippings
from local papers. These show several
houses of Catholic families destroyed
by Phailin.

Villagers were so traumatized by the storm, many hugged the missionary's legs and cried as he visited from one household to the next. After assessing damage, Fr. met with the elders of his church, and volunteer construction crews were organized to fan out and erect shelters for the people.

"Because of strikes and bandh (throwing people out of work due to Telengana statehood tensions) people had no money, as I expected," wrote Fr. Varghese, "so they agreed to come for voluntary work."

A number were masons and carpenters with invaluable experience for the job.

The lack of funds and resources meant they had to do "very creative constructions," said Father, who labored with the work crews by day, then spent evenings in the villages to help restore normality. People scavenged bits and pieces of building materials, and built new walls with scraps the best they could. Only time will tell if the materials are sturdy enough to withstand monsoon rains.

Seven families were moved temporarily into the mission church at Dibbelepalem, said Fr. Varghese.

A number of homes now have reinforced walls but no ceilings, since a promised donation to buy tin sheets for roofing didn't arrive until late in the week.

By then, many people were in sickbeds with fevers, and Fr. Varghese found himself with a reduced crew.

Several days ago, he wrote that rains were especially heavy in the South, which was interrupting power supplies and networks. His village of Dibbelepalem was without power altogether. But now four days of renewed rains have brought canals and rivers across the state to "spate" -- overflowing and sweeping away any normality.

This Times of India video reports on the severe state of emergency across the region.

October 24, 2013 headlines in the Deccan Chronicle out of nearby Rahjamundry, read:

"Rains cause havoc in Godavari districts"

"Paddy fields inundated by rains, cotton crop likely to be affected in 2,700 hectares..."

"Heavy rains throw life out of gear: railway tracks, highways submerged leaving vehicles stranded, rescue measures deployed."

"Rains batter state, wash away 6 people"

As many as 50,000 people are displaced from homes. More than 500 villages are cut off and inaccessible because highways and secondary roads are flooded. Whole villages are without or have only limited power.

He knows of seven other parishes across the Diocese of Visakhapatnam that were struggling after Cyclone Phailin, says Fr. Varghese -- and that was before these latest rains swept over the region.

A number of Fr.'s friends daily pray Psalm 91 for this missionary and his people. Please consider praying this powerful Psalm for protection and uplift of this entire flood-ravaged region.

If you would like to help provide needed emergency relief funds for food and rebuilding supplies, please use the donate buttons at right for Paypal or credit card.

Clippings from Eenadu show flood
misery across the area.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Post-cyclone storms still pound villages

Image courtesy of NOAA
Cyclone Phailin, gathering strength over the
Indian Ocean, October 11, 2013.
In a brief online chat yesterday, Fr. Varghese told how he got calls from parishioners who "lost their houses and so on...sad it is."

The situation's worsening today as heavy storms spawned by Cyclone Phailin sweep away villager's homes and crops. Concrete buildings in larger towns are faring better, says the priest, but thatch-roofed homes in villages are no match for these punishing rains. See this Times of India video of Cyclone Phailin and these photos  of the storm and its impact.

On October 11, Cyclone Phailin was named the largest Cyclone ever recorded over the Indian Ocean, measuring half the size of India. Thousands fled and were evacuated from the nation's East Coast, preventing widespread loss of life. So far, 23 deaths are reported.
Photo by Daniel Bartholomew
Co-blogger Marianna B. received birthday greetings
via Skype from Fr. Varghese, his mission children and
Gypsy the dog, just the night before Cyclone Phailin hit.

The evening before the cyclone made landfall, Fr. Varghese and his children sent birthday greetings via video chat to his Dalitjournal co-blogger. Next day, he joined missionary Fathers Bhaskar and Sridhar in traveling north to the yearly diocesan retreat for priests in the Diocese of Visakhapatnam.

In a region already reeling from strikes, power outages and food shortages from Telengana statehood tensions, people are ill-equipped to handle yet another disaster.

The scale and frequency of natural disaster and political strife in India accounts for the diocesan retreat not being cancelled due to the crisis. This is a precious and crucial time for diocesan priests to reconnect and gather in prayer, rejuvenating their faith in a region just 2% Christian. Special talks by Bishop Antony Pappusamy of the Diocese of Dindigul in Tamil Nadu and hours spent in Eucharistic Adoration, are focusing the priests on local and global intentions.

In past floods, Fr. Varghese carried people to safety, fed and housed them for up to ten weeks at Holy Family Mission and helped in reconstructing homes. Now, he's fasting for his people and will face major clean-up when he returns home.

"Ask all our friends to pray for us," he wrote.

If you would like to donate to Flood Relief at Holy Family Mission, please use the donate buttons for Paypal or credit cards on this site, at right. Thank you and God bless you.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Strikes, miracles, and St. Francis in Andhra Pradesh

Photo by Marianna Bartholomew
Fr. Varghese has a special 
devotion to St. Francis.
 May the peace of St. Francis 
permeate Andhra Pradesh.

On this First Friday Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Fr. Varghese Kalapurakudy and his people hand-drew a large map of their state, Andhra Pradesh, with a split down its middle and these words, written in the graceful swoops and swirls of the Telegu language: "Lord, heal our wounds." Faithful hung this large image from the altar, and during Eucharistic adoration, processed, singing adoremus. In Holy Family Church, jammed to capacity that night, people cried as each placed a flower and lit a candle before the Blessed Sacrament, pleading for peace for their troubled state.

The region erupted in violence, and "today and tomorrow a totally violent bandh (strikes and protest) is going on,” reported Fr. Varghese last night, after India’s cabinet announced it would back its ruling Congress party’s July resolution to carve a new state of Telengana from the state of Andhra Pradesh, giving the richly-resourced city of Hyderabad to the new state. Fr. Varghese's Holy Family Mission and its rural outposts lie in the large strip of Andhra Pradesh that will be peeled from Hyderabad, the region’s primary hub of technology and urban development.

Fr. Varghese and his missionary friend Fr. Bhaskar 
snapped this photo on a mission trip some days ago. 
It's a typical sight across India as Telengana 
and other statehood issues erupt. The 
Telengana cause has created a domino effect,
and now other regions are urging claims 

for statehood.
For two months, life in Andhra Pradesh has meant “fights, dhamasbandhs, picketing, walkouts, power cuts,” wrote Fr. Varghese. (Dhamas are fasts for a cause, a non-violent form of protest.) “People are really struggling because of Telengana issues.” Division cuts deeply, explained Father, because the people have a deep patriotism and love for their nation.

It's a situation more volatile and difficult than the flooding that submerged whole sections of his region and his mission village of Yerravarram, just a week before statehood issues erupted in mid-July, said the missionary.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
In 1956, Andhra Pradesh State was formed
from a merging of Hyderabad and Andhra States.
The new Telengana State peels away from the 

original Andhra, placing the primary hub of urban and 
technological development in the new Telengana.
While most protests to this point have been non-violent, the government’s new announcements on Thursday drew an explosive reaction, with people burning buses and public offices, reported Father. College students “poured petrol on themselves and set themselves ablaze. Three of them died and four are in the hospitals. It is a kind of rejection of the people for the decision from the government.”

Weeks ago, Fr. Varghese answered his Archbishop’s call to go to his see of Visakhapatnam to help organize a rosary rally and march in response to statehood tensions. Schoolchildren, religious and laity took to the streets with their Archbishop Prakash Mallavarapu, praying and pleading for a just resolution to statehood issues. Days later, Fr. Varghese and his faithful marched and prayed the Rosary in Rajamundry, the third-largest city in Andhra Pradesh.

With roads and shops closed, and people unemployed, “really, it is a hell for us,” wrote Fr. Varghese about a week ago. Seeking perspective and Holy Spirit guidance amidst chaos, he walked up the “holy hill” where faithful hope to build a shrine some day, and prayed mysteries of the holy rosary. Later, at his mission compound, he cheered children sent home from closed schools, by joining them in playing chess, cricket and the traditional board game of the East, "carroms."

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The mission is a gathering point for
children sent home due to school
closings. Shown here is one favorite 

game, "Carroms." 
Food supplies have dwindled, especially for remote villagers, and the missionary has sacrificed his own provisions. His Sunday collection averages just $100 weekly, and he runs five mission outposts with three chapels on these funds. He gave one of his last Sunday collections away, after a local boy was bit by a rabid dog and needed funds to be transported into Kakinada for rabies shots and treatment.

When he lacked rupees to pay water and electrical bills this week, a concerned friend stepped forward to cover the costs.

In a prior miracle two weeks ago, a friend's Facebook friend sent a gift that allowed the missionary and volunteers to distribute to hungry villagers more than 100 pounds of rice and 22 pounds of lentils. But now even people in the larger town of Yeleswaram are going hungry, said Fr. Varghese, who lives 3 kilometers outside of this town. 
Photo by Daniel Bartholomew
With shops closed, transportation down, and
 employment disrupted, people across Andhra
Pradesh are struggling to find basic provisions. 

Please pray for a quick resolution of the Telengana tensions, urges the priest, who also prays that concerned friends will continue to help feed his people. 

(You can send Holy Family Mission donations through the Paypal or credit card buttons at right. It's quick and secure.)

Many weeks ago, when Telengana issues first intensified, Fr. Varghese spoke of his vocation as an "instrument of peace." Let's join with him as he prays in the spirit of St. Francis:
Frs. Varghese and Bhaskar captured this idyllic
image of 
village life hung in the cathedral in the 
Diocese of Bongaigaon, on a recent mission trip.
May peace prevail across India.

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may seek
Not so much to be consoled,
As to console;
To be understood,
As to understand;
To be loved,
As to love;
For it is in giving
That we receive;
It is in pardoning
That we are pardoned;
It is in dying
That we are born to eternal life."