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."

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