By Liju Cherian
As Kerala, the southern state of India, nicknamed “God’s Own Country,” battles one of the worst flood disasters in a century, various religious communities have opened their doors to help homeless people.
One such is St George’s Church in Ambayathode, Kannur, which opened its gates to house those affected by the floods.
Various other Christian denominations in Kerala have come forward to extend a helping hand in liaison with the Kerala government’s disaster management authority.
On 20 August, the Indian (Malankara) Orthodox Metropolitan announced a major rehabilitation program for the victims at a press conference held at Catholicate Palace, Devalokam, Kottayam, Kerala.
The package, among others, involves constructing homes for 1,000 eligible families, a food security program for 1,000 poor families under Ardhra, the service wing of the church. Trauma and rehabilitation counseling services will be provided through Vipasana, the counseling and guidance cell.
The church will participate in cleaning of public and other places through its youth and student wings and provide financial aid to eligible people who lost livestock during the deluge.
The Catholicos also urged the faithful to observe 24 August as ‘fasting day’ and generously contribute towards rehabilitative efforts.
The disaster has killed some 370 people, left over a million people homeless and caused unprecedented destruction to both private and public property.
On 19 August, St John’s Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Kumarakom, Kottayam, conducted the holy liturgy with the laity attending the service in knee-deep waters.
His Holiness Baselios Paulose II (Catholicos on the Apostolic Throne of St Thomas and Malankara Metropolitan) and His Beatitude Abune Thomas I (Catholicos and Metropolitan Trustee of the Syriac Orthodox Church in India) which have their headquarters in Kottayam and Kochi were part of the districts hit by the devastation. Both the prelates appealed to the clergy and faithful for prayers, and cooperation to help citizens in distress.
Indian Orthodox churches based in Kerala and diaspora churches abroad formed special committees in a vigorous fund collection drive. They organized ‘bucket collections’ as a simple way to raise funds from the parish members.
All the spiritual organizations of the churches are actively involved in voluntary services, extending help in whatever way they can.
The bishops also called upon the churches to cancel the forthcoming festive Onam celebrations. Onam is the 10-day annual Hindu festival having its origins in Kerala and falls from 15-27 August.
Believed to the national festival of Kerala, several non-Hindu communities participate in the harvest celebrations considering it as a cultural festival and is also celebrated by Christians around the world.
Earlier, the Indian Orthodox Churches, spread over 30 dioceses in Kerala and abroad, observed 12 August as ‘Calamity Day’ and 17 August as a ‘Day of Fasting and Prayers.’
The Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church under His Grace The Most Rev Dr Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan is also taking part in the rehabilitation efforts in a massive way.
Members of Mar Gregorios Orthodox Christian Student Movement, the oldest Christian student organization in Asia, have been directed to collect dry food items for distribution in flood-hit areas.
Pope Francis, during the weekly Sunday prayers at St Peter’s Square, called for solidarity and help from the international community for people affected by flooding.
His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch and All East, and the Primate of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church, in a letter to His Beatitude the Catholicos Mor Baselios Thomas I, Metropolitans, clergy and the faithful, extended his prayers and condolences to the families of those who died in the heavy rains and floods.
The Catholic Church and United Church of South India (CSI) also joined in relief efforts. All 41 Catholic dioceses in the southern state opened schools and other institutions to accommodate flood victims and cooperated to send food, clothes and relief materials.
The six dioceses of the CSI are also active in relief work. The CSI urged “all Christian organizations in India and sister churches to express their solidarity and proactively engage in relief work.”
The Anglican Alliance, which helps to coordinate the work of Anglican relief agencies around the world, planned a conference call to drum up international support.
Donations are accepted through the Kerala Chief Ministers Distress Relief
Fund Account: https://donation.cmdrf.kerala.gov.in/