Fr. Kocherry leaves us a legacy of commitment to the marginalized

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Fr. Thomas Kocherry, CSsR, who led several agitations of traditional fishing community in India, passed away on Saturday (03.05.14). He was 74.

Fr. Thomas Kocherry professed his vows and became a Redemptorist Missionary over 51 years ago. In 1971, he was ordained a priest. He dedicated his whole life and ministry to the abandoned and the poor; as a lawyer for those whose rights were abused, especially women; as an environmentalist for the earth and all who live on it. For him, the greatest honour was the difference he made in the lives of ordinary men and women.

According to The Hindu newspaper, “He started by organising health clinics for the fishing community in his locality with the help of his friends. Later on, Fr. Kocherry was instrumental in the formation oforganisations, including the World Forum of Fisher People, and led movements such as the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and the National Fish Workers Forum that fought for the rights of the downtrodden, mostly those among the fishing community. In 1981, he went on a 11-day fast demanding a ban on trawling during the monsoon season. A decade later, he led a campaign demanding a reversal of the Union government’s plan to open up the country’s waters to foreign trawlers. The legislation was withdrawn by the government following sustained pressure from fishing organisations. He was imprisoned several times for taking part in various people’s protest movements. Recently, he was part of the anti-nuclear plant protests at Kudankulam and played a key part in creating awareness and mobilising villagers.”

In his letter to the Provincial and Confreres of the Bangalore Province, Fr. Michael Brehl, Superior General of the Redemptorists, wrote: “Fr. Tom leaves us a legacy of commitment to the cause of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. He also leaves us with the memories of a remarkable human being – accomplished, yet humble; a prophet with a great sense of humour; an Indian and a Redemptorist missionary with a global, multicultural and ecumenical perspective. His passing calls us to continue the mission for the sake of all, especially the abandoned and the poor.”

Fr. Kocherry took the attention of the world when the PEW foundation announced him as the recipient of an award which carried U.S.$ 150,000 for marine conservation. But he declined the award since the agency was funded by an oil company which is one of the biggest polluters in the world. He received  gold medal from the FIAN international for Socio-economic Human Right Protection in 1997. In 1998 he was given the The Earth Trustee Award by the Earth Society Foundation for his contribution in preserving and promoting marine ecology. He also won the Sophie Price from Norway for his contribution to alternate politics and development.

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