A priest with a paralyzed body has become a source of strength for the physically and mentally challenged. He is Fr. Sebastian Thengumpallil, who believes that he has been called to this unusual vocation by the will of God.
Fr. Sebastian was a Jesuit Scholastic pursuing his graduation. At the same time he was a playback singer, organizer, teacher, and social activist, actively involved in multifaceted fields of life. But the course of his life changed drastically at the age of 23 with the visit of a least expected ‘guest’ to his body. It was in 1985. It all started with a mild fever. Doctors diagnosed deadly Guillian Barrie Syndrome and predicted a delicate chance of survival. He lost his power of movement below his neck. At first he had to depend upon others even for a glass of water. But with the help of relatives and colleagues he limped back to life.
His companions in the Jesuit Order were attending to all his needs and the superiors and his dear ones from home monitored every beep and movement of the life-support machines and wholeheartedly supported his struggles to live. He became consciously aware of the change of his question to God. He asked, “How, O Lord, how shall I overcome my suffering?” To this he heard HIS life-giving words: “Be not afraid, I am with you.”
The Guillian Barrie Syndrome left him with permanent disorders and challenges to his life. His muscles were shrunk, limbs stiffened, body became numb and the chest remained squeezed. With continuous physiotherapy he could walk on plain floors with the help of a walker. He needed a helping hand to climb a step. But it could not rob off all his dreams. Usually a disabled will not be ordained a priest, especially as a Jesuit priest, since the life of a Jesuit priest demands a lot of physical endurance. But due to his iron will and determination he was able to complete his studies and was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1997.
It was when late Fr. Joseph Kannampuzha, S.J., the founder of Snehabhavan, Kottayam, Kerala, India invited him to join his initiative. Snehabhavan is dedicated to the education, training and rehabilitation of the physically and mentally challenged. He now takes it as the passion and the mission of his life to communicate to those who struggle to survive with physical and mental challenges. He is now the executive director of Snehabhavan responsible for running a special school that caters to 71 students with special needs; managing a Vocational Training Centre under Snehabhavan for physically challenged and coordinating the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) projects spread over eight Gramapanchayats of Kottayam district catering to the rehabilitation needs of 1116 families.
Every mentally and physically challenged child he comes across is specifically important for him. He is very particular that everyone is approached in a very personal way. His priestly vocation gives him that approach. He believes that everyone is a unique and precious child of God and merits to be treated so.
Fr. Sebastian is a man of practical wisdom. He is moved by compassion and love, especially if the person in front of him is physically or mentally challenged. That makes him empathetic and he is driven by a firm conviction that the person before him deserves his services. Above all, as a Catholic priest, he discerns a spiritual dimension of every situation where God is in charge and this gives him a sense of direction and orientation. Thus he gets an inspiration to be a co-worker with Jesus Christ.
To conclude, when there is passion, there is a dream, a project to imagine. When there is a project, there is a vision and a way to achieve it. That necessitates a professional approach to fulfill it. When there is a person deserving our help and there is a passionate dream that moves us, there is a practical way to help that person. This sums up Fr. Sebastian’s vision and mission with Snehabhavan.
Fr. Sebastian can be reached at +91-481-2597984 (Mob: +91 9496224332)
To know more about Snehabvavan, Kottayam and to offer your help, if any, visit their official website www.snehabhavanktm.org