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July 31st, 2012

Moved By Love

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.

Fr.Sebastian Thengumpallil 01

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 Thengumpallil 02

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

July 18th, 2011

A Village That Refuses To Bury Its Dead

A Village That Refuses To Bury Its Dead

Love does not know bounds, so is the case with hatred too.

Orissa has been in the news, often for wrong reasons. The list is long with some of them making our heads hang in shame. In fact there is no comparison to what was done to Graham Staines and his two sons at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district on 23 January 1999. A maniac mob blocked the doors of their station wagon where they were sleeping, poured petrol all over, and shouted political slogans as the father and two sons were burned alive.

As if this was not enough, the same barbaric elements unleashed violence on the hapless tribal Christians in Kandhamal following the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides on 23 August 2008. The marauders ran amok, violating the tribal women, looting their properties, torching their houses and killing all those who were too weak to resist. In all nearly 200 people lost their lives in the violence.

That is why Orissa does not surprise me anymore. Yet a recent incident has stirred me once again in spite of the obvious contempt I do have for the state. At a remote village in the state, the majority Hindu group refused to allow the burial of a three-year-old Dalit Christian girl who died following some health complications.

The girl living at Jinduguda village, 15 km away from Malkangiri, a district in the southern part of Orissa, fell sick and was taken to a nearby health centre on 27 October 2010. The doctor advised the parents to take the child to a nearby hospital. However the patient developed more complications and died while being treated there.

The helpless parents brought the body of the girl back to their village for burial. The Hindus, who form the majority at the village, refused to allow them to bury the girl at the village. There are only 15 Christian families living at the village.

The distraught parents took the body to Malkangiri to seek help for burial. Finally the matter was reported to the local police. The parents, with the dead body in their hands, waited for the police to find a way-out. When the body started to stink, some sane elements in the community managed to prevail over the obstinate ones at the village and gave a quiet burial for the girl.

If anyone thinks this is an isolated incident, they are badly mistaken. Bargaining over the dead has been a regular phenomenon wherever caste feelings run high. In fact there are churches where separate routes as well as divided cemeteries exist to bury their dead – one for the high castes and the other for the lower sections.

Even in Kerala, God’s own country, the reality is no different. The lower sections and also new converts have no say in the running of the Church. They are kept on the margins, being denied of even normal human dignity. Separate seating and separate cemetery dots the landscape of Kerala Church.

A recent incident in central Kerala makes one sit up wondering about the extent of rot that has set in. A Dalit in his late fifties, who had been ailing for quite some time, died without receiving the last sacraments. In fact, he had not been attending the church for many years in protest against the discriminatory practices within his own church. And the leadership in the church did not take kindly to his way of expressing anguish. They ostracised him along with his family, stubbornly refused to reach out even in their times of crisis. Even when he died, they refused to bury him in the cemetery. Finally with the intervention of some sensible elders, he was buried just outside the cemetery.

This is happening in spite of the fact Christ has come mainly to give a new identity to all those who live on the margins – the tax collectors, the fishermen, and even the prostitutes. It is time there arose a new theology of action that could cleanse the Church within and without.

Remember the words that Christ spoke while addressing the synagogue at the beginning of his public ministry. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he appointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden…” (Luke 4:18-19)

– – – written by Dr .George Karimalil

December 12th, 2010

Christmas Care Packages for India

Christmas Care Packages in India

Here are the two ways to share Christmas with Christians in India.

Christians in India face great hardships for following Christ. Pastors are beaten or arrested, and families are mistreated. And yet they bear these costs gladly to wear Christ’s name. It’s not too late to help Christian families in India this holiday season.

This Christmas, we are reaching out to children of persecuted families and to local evangelists in India. Thousands of Christmas Care Packs (for children) and Village Outreach Packs (for local evangelists) have already been sponsored, and there is still time for you to participate in this Christmas outreach to our persecuted brothers and sisters in India.

Christmas Care Packs

Christmas Care Packs contain practical items, such as clothing and sandals, as well as books and Bible stories in their local language, school supplies, crayons and some candy. All the gifts are presented in a school backpack. Imagine the joy on the face of these children as they realize a Christian family in the United States has sponsored a Christmas gift just for them!

Our goal is to deliver 10,000 Christmas Care Packs (customized for different climates) to children living in areas of persecution. The packs will be filled with practical items as well as books and Bible stories in Indian languages to encourage kids in their faith.

Sponsor a Christmas Care Pack

Village Outreach Packs

Village Outreach Packs are specifically designed to assist local evangelists in reaching their communities for Christ. These packs include a small library of gospel materials for them to use in their ministry.

Each Village Outreach Pack provides a small library of gospel materials for a church leader or evangelist. These Village Outreach Packs will go especially to pastors and evangelists from minority groups outside of large cities. VOM’s goal is to provide 3,000 packs that will help recipients learn to preach sermons, teach others and study the Bible more effectively.

Sponsor a Village Outreach Pack

We were created in God’s image. As a result, we have the same capacity to extend kindness that God has. Are you wondering how to start being kind in this Christmas season? The above links will surely help you. God bless you.

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