By Giselle Miranda and Dara Smith
Peter, a two-year-old boy, was taken into the Bethany Karunalaya, a shelter in Cherlappally, India, three years ago. He was hungry, frightened and alone, and was left without a family when his parents committed suicide after being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
Peter’s story is not unique. Many children are left alone in the streets of India with no food or shelter. The elderly and mentally ill are disowned from their families because they lack resources every day. This year’s Lenten season, starting on Ash Wednesday Mar. 1 and ending on Easter Sunday Apr. 16, St. Patrick’s Church in Smithtown will target poverty stricken areas in Cherlappally, Telangana and Trivandrum, Kerala, another southern state in India, where millions of people are homeless.
“People think that once the parents are infected with HIV/AIDS, they think the child or so has the same problem,” Father Shibi, an associate pastor of St. Patrick’s Church, said. “So no one wanted to take care of him.”
Bethany Karunalaya is run by the Bethany Ashram Order of the Catholic Church, in the southern state of Telangana, India. The charity-funded refuge will receive the donations collected during lent by the St. Patrick’s Church in Smithtown.
The church has been collecting money during their daily Mass services to donate to these homes as part of their annual Lenten project. Father Shibi was ordained as a priest in 2005 in India and now serves in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre. He introduced a new Lenten project to his Indian Religious Congregation known as Bethany Ashram. Homeless children, the elderly, disabled and mentally challenged residents of two homes, Bethany Karunalaya and Trppaadam in Trivandrum will receive public charity support for the first time from America.
“The school is open for the inmates of the Bethany Karunalaya and the children from the neighboring villages are also benefitting,” Father Geevarghese Shajan Kuttiyil, Provincial Superior, said. “The disabled and the mentally challenged children are given special nursing care and special training programs at Karunalya Home.”
Christianity is the third largest religion in India, despite making up 2.3 percent of the religious population. The Catholic church is the largest Christian church within India, with over 17 million Catholics. The largest religion in India is Hinduism which makes up 79.8 percent of the population. The second largest, Islam, makes up 14.23 percent.
“I know the situation, what is happening in India,” Father Shibi said. “When I came here, it was an entirely different thing. I accepted that it’s a different culture, different ethics, value system. Always I had in my mind that a single dollar is enough for us to feed a child.”
For the past 12 years, St. Patrick’s Church has been doing Lenten projects in other countries. “We have a lot of foreign priests now in our archdiocese,” Monsignor Ellsworth R. Walden of St. Patrick’s Church, said. “When they come, they eventually go back to their people. And people here get to know them and find out the way that their people live.”
Other Catholic Churches embark on this journey to help those in need during Lent, including St. Brigid’s Catholic Church in Westbury and The Maria Regina Roman Catholic Church in Seaford.
St. Brigid’s Church is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus’ and is running a Lenten project, “40 cans for Lent.”
“We started this program a year ago, feeding 300-350 families a month, all located in the Westbury Community, but we never ask if you are a member or not, as long as you are in need, people are helped,” Joan Echausse, Director of Parish Outreach of St. Brigid’s Church, said.
The Maria Regina Church goal is to repair the roof of St. Patrick Catholic Church Owerre Ezukala, in the Anambra state of Nigeria. “We started four years ago,” Father Lawrence Onyegu of Maria Regina Church said. “The point is, giving up is to sacrifice.”
They will also be holding their Fifth Annual Soup Supper on Apr. 4.
St. Patrick’s Church has raised about $21,000 from their start of Lent on Mar. 1 for the residents of these homes in India. They will continue to accept donations throughout Easter in the hope of exceeding their average goal of $25,000.