Monday, December 16, 2013

Racing a Cyclone to Bring Bibles Home

Fr. Varghese distributes mission-edition
Telegu language Bibles, a gift from friends
of his mission to celebrate the end of the
liturgical "Year of Faith."
Racing cyclone winds home with a shipment of 300 mission Bibles in the Telegu language, Fr. Varghese and fellow missionary Fr. Baskhar reached their destination just hours before Cyclone Helen made landfall. The week before the Feast of Christ the King and the last Sunday of the liturgical Year of Faith, the two missionaries had helped host a youth gathering in Vizianagaram. Attendance was lower due to the approaching cyclone, although Fr. Varghese said it was a blessed gathering. The young people prayed and discussed faith issues. Fr. Varghese preached and Fr. Baskhar led music with a choir.

Within hours of cyclone rains ceasing, villagers
gathered at Holy Family Mission to celebrate the
Feast of Christ the King. Children enacted scenes
from Scripture. Shown here is Abraham.
On the way home the priests stopped in Visakhapatnam to pick up crates of Bibles, but buses were already shut down due to torrential rains from Cyclone Helen. The two hitched a ride on a truck with their Bibles, and were dropped at Yerraverram, the village worst-hit this monsoon season by floods. Fr. Varghese called villagers in Yeleswaram, who came with bicycles to transport the crates of Bibles to Holy Family Mission. Thus, a trip from Visakhapatnam that would usually take five hours, took 10, and kept the missionaries up all night. 

Fr. Varghese slept three hours but then arose to emergency reief efforts, since floods were already rising in villagers' homes.

When the worst of the storms hit, everyone sought shelter indoors. At one point, Fr. Varghese texted a friend: "We got little power and net work. We are safe. It is heavily raining and strong wind. Two of my coconut tress fell down. I don't know exactly what is happening outside."

Abraham, Isaac and a beast of burden.
On Sunday, weather had calmed, although many villagers were still in government-built shelters due to flood damage to their homes. Villagers still celebrated the Feast of Christ the King by having children enact scenes from salvation history. They gave up plans to share a celebration meal, giving meal packets to villagers in Yerraverram, instead, since those bore the brunt of Cyclone Helen. 

The Blessed Virgin agrees to bear God's Son.
Fr. Varghese spent that Sunday night in his mission church in flood-ravaged Yerraverram, and spent the next days in flood-relief efforts. He and volunteers distributed needed clothing collected by parishioners, and cooked rice and sambar (veggie stew) to serve near the church. As many as 200 villagers were fed twice daily for several days until supplies ran out. Fr. Varghese gave away all his rice and was surviving on radishes and tapioca by the time a friend sent funds for needed provisions.

Within days, a new cyclone that appeared even worse then Helen brewed over the Bay of Bengal. People were so terrified they were crying out in the night, making it impossible to sleep, reported Fr. Varghese. By a miracle, cyclone winds dissipated and what the government had warned could be the worst cyclone yet, never developed. 

But after-effects of this monsoon season will be long lasting for Fr.'s region, since 90% of the crops have been destroyed by floods. Farmers have been taking their lives, seeing their livelihoods disappear in front of their eyes. 

In this season of Christ's light and joy, please hold the suffering people of Andhra Pradesh in prayer.

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