Locals urged to help India flood survivors

Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Premature Tudu, left, and Sincy Sebastian, foreground, principal of the Marian English Medium School in Kerala, walked on a road partly washed away by flood waters on their way to visit survivors in a remote community. (Photo Special to The Record)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer

Though a span of close to 9,000 miles separates Louisville from the devastating flooding and landslides in Kerala, India, the two places are connected by the Catholic faith.

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth have nine sisters serving in the area and several Kerala natives are currently serving the Archdiocese of Louisville. Conventual Franciscan Fathers John Pozhathuparambil and George Munjanattu are campus ministers at Bellarmine University. Father  Pozhathuparambil is also a sacramental moderator of Holy Family Church. Carmelite Father Saju Vadakumpadan is pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Campbellsville, Ky.; Our Lady of the Hills Church in Finley, Ky.; and Our Lady of Fatima Church in Phillipsburg, Ky.

Catholic News Service reported that torrential rainfall, which started Aug. 13, and landslides left close to 400 people dead and forced nearly a million people into temporary relief shelters, including the family members of Fathers Vadakumpadan and Pozhathuparambil. 

The faithful here in the Archdiocese of Louisville can help

survivors in Kerala in three ways — through Water With Blessings, a local non-profit that provides water filters to developing nations; the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth who are offering direct relief in Kerala and through a special collection called for by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz.

The archbishop has called on parishes to take up a special collection on one of the next few weekends. All funds collected will be given to the priests’ religious communities — the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate and the Conventual Franciscans who serve in Kerala, according to a letter from the archbishop.

Father Vadakumpadan said in an interview Aug. 27 that his village was flooded. The devastation is everywhere, he said. His brothers returned from relief camps to find mud and snakes in their homes. Both men and their families are sharing the house that was the least damaged, said Father Vadakumpadan.

All of his neighbors, uncles, aunts and cousins saw their share of destruction by the flood, too, he said. The Carmel School, where he once served as principal, was awash in more than 12 feet of water and more than a dozen school buses were ruined.

Father Vadakumpadan said he is very concerned for the poor who have lost everything and is worried, too, about the contamination of wells, which are the main sources of water in the area.

His family, he noted, is still “very hopeful” and believe there are still “blessings from our Lord” to come. He plans to visit them in October.                                                                    

Father Pozhathuparambil said in an interview Aug. 23, that he and Father Munjanattu, are coordinating an effort with Water With Blessings to distribute water filters to survivors.

Father Pozhathuparambil’s parents, who took shelter in a relief camp as flood waters rose, returned to their home to find that everything had been damaged. His parents did their best to clean the house and are sleeping on the floor, for the time being, said Father Pozhathuparambil.

The stories of people’s misery following the rain and flooding abound, said Father Pozhathuparambil. One of his aunts survived being trapped on a bridge for 16 hours and another relative spent two days in a dark house holding her two-year-old child.

“It’s heart-breaking” to see what’s happening to the “proud” people of Kerala, he said. “It hasn’t flooded like this in close to 100 years. No one has experienced anything like it.” 

Father Pozhathuparambil said he’s very concerned that survivors are leaving shelters, where they had access to clean water, and returning to areas where their only source of water is a contaminated well. The Conventual Franciscan friary in Kerala is hosting more than 700 people who fled the rising waters, said Father Pozhathuparambil.

Father Pozhathuparambil plans to travel to Kerala the first week of September to check on his family and hopes to bring access to clean water with him through the partnership with Water With Blessings.

Ursuline Sister of Mt. St. Joseph Larraine Lauter, executive director of Water With Blessings, said the goal is to send 1,000 Sawyer Point ONE filters to Kerala. The filters are small enough to fit in a backpack, she noted, so they’re well-suited for sending to remote areas. They require no chlorine or electricity to work.

“In any disaster, water is the most critical need,” said Sister Lauter. “It’s a hidden additional factor in the death rate that’s not even acknowledged. The rate of death from dirty water following a disaster usually exceeds the original death rate, especially in developing countries.”

Sister Lauter hopes to obtain the filters for about $50 each and donations to purchase the filters are being accepted.

“We know water is the most important thing we can provide. Everything will be better when water is clean. All other efforts will be undermined by dirty water,” said Sister Lauter.

The Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Louisville also shares a connection to Kerala through the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth’s ministries in the Indian state.

Sister Sangeeta Ayithamattam, a native of Kerala,  was installed as president of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth on Aug. 25.

Currently nine sisters offer pastoral and social ministry and operate the Marian English Medium School in Anakkampoil, a village in the Kozhikode district of Kerala. They have become a “consoling presence,” doing what they can to support flood survivors emotionally and mentally following the disaster, said Sister Ayithamattam.

“Acres of farmlands were washed away. Many families lost everything and roads have collapsed,” said Sister Ayithamattam, who has been in contact with the sisters in India.

The sisters were “very scared,” but remained in their homes as torrential rain fell, said Sister Ayithamattam. As soon as the rain stopped they were out ministering to the people, she said. They have been visiting people in remote areas and handing out food and emergency supplies. The sisters from all three ministries are working together to collect food and supplies and to “send out appeals to others for help,” said Sister Ayithamattam.

This is a difficult time for the people of Kerala, because “culturally, people don’t leave their homes and their land,” she said. But everyone who is connected to the sisters’ ministry in Kerala — school teachers and administrators, parish families and the youth — are all pitching in to help, said Sister Ayithamattam.

Donations may be made through the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth’s website at scnfamily.org/donate.

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