(Kolkata, India) The COVID -19 virus has suddenly overtaken our lives and has changed all that we have considered normal. It has altered our perspective on our work and personal lives and is making us rethink what is most important to us. The national lockdown has given us a time to reflect on what is a priority in our lives – family, prayer, God. However, not everyone has the privilege to reflect and think. Not everyone has a nice home to be safe in, to constantly wash their hands and to stay safe and protected. Photographs after photograph, news after news has shown how the poor and marginalized are affected by the national lockdown.
Through all the tumultuous time, we are constantly reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 25: 40 “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink”
Taking this to heart, the Redemptorist fathers of Fatima Shrine Church, Kolkata, decided to walk the way of the Lord. Under the leadership of Fr Francis Mukul Mondal (Rector), Fr Amar Bagh (Parish Priest), Fr Richard David, Fr Francis Satish Makal and Bro. Samson (Scholastic) took the initiative to address the needs of the poorest in the parish.
In a church of about 925 households, an estimated 600 households depend on daily wages to sustain their families. A social movement of sorts was galvanized to address the needs of a large section of our parishioners – the daily wage workers. They are mainly those who are occupied as daily laborers, rickshaw pullers, taxi drivers and maids. With the support of members from SVP, the Family and Health Cells, the priests set up a modality to address the issue.
The initiative was to provide rations to all 450 households that would help sustain them for some time. Through the generous collection of funds from parishioners, dry staples were purchased from the wholesale market and family packages were made that would help tide over part of the lockdown. A total of 24 quintals of rice, 6 quintals of dal and 12 quintals of potatoes were purchased. It was estimated that each family package would consist of 4 kgs of rice, 1 kg of dal and 2 kgs of potatoes.
Volunteers came from all walks of life and of all ages from the parish. They spent time in sorting and packing the family packages. Physical distancing and protective gear were maintained during the sorting and packaging.
The areas where the households resided were divided into three distinct areas. A local leader was selected who went around identifying the most vulnerable and needy. A list was drawn up and the identified households were asked to collect the family rations from the church on the day specified for the area.
The distribution of ration was held from 5th to 8th April at the church premises. The church set up the required parameters for the distribution. Not more than 4 people were allowed into the church premises and they had to stand 1.5 meters apart. Fr Mukul and Fr Amar wore the necessary protective gear to hand out the packages to a member representative of the family. At the end of 4 grueling days, everyone was happy to have made a difference in someone’s life during this difficult time.
As the pandemic comes closer to our doors, so does empathy and compassion light up our lives. We realize that we are all in this together, for the long haul. And thus we need to support and help each other through the dark days and nights till a new day dawns. For a new dawn will come and what we have considered normal for all our lives, will no longer be normal. And through all this, we internalize and demonstrate what Jesus said – “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brother, you do unto me”.
Fr. Mukul Mondal, C.Ss.R.