Journeying Together in Faith
His Eminence, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, initiated a video catechetical series on April 27, 2020, that is live streamed every evening at 6 pm on the Archdiocese of Bombay YouTube channel. The catechesis consists of a short input on a particular topic given by a priest, followed by a time of prayer. The talks focus on Scripture, Liturgy, Doctrine and the Family on four consecutive days respectively. Saturdays are reserved for talks on miscellaneous topics. On Sundays, Cardinal Gracias hosts a Q&A session, where he answers questions (received on e-mail) from the faithful. The Catechesis sessions, as well as the daily Morning Eucharist celebrated at 7:30 a.m. by the Cardinal, have received a tremendous response from the faithful. Tune in to the Archdiocese of Bombay YouTube channel.
Health Promotion Trust's Relief Efforts
Faced by the recent COVID-19 pandemic caused by the coronavirus that has affected the lives of millions of people around the globe, Health Promotion Trust (HPT) of the Archdiocese of Bombay and many like-minded organisations are reaching out to hundreds of families who are battling with fears of keeping themselves safe and protected.
In the midst of this crisis, making people aware of the ways and means to combat COVID-19 is crucial. Therefore, in keeping with its mission of 'Prevention is Better than Cure', HPT (following the guidelines of the World Health Organization) decided to provide its immediate beneficiaries and vulnerable sections of people with necessary medical equipment to prevent the spread of the virus. As an immediate intervention, HPT through its partner organisations i.e. the Church-based Community Centres of Raigad district, Mumbai and Dharavi Islands, started providing basic medical kits comprising of face masks, hand gloves, handwash, Dettol disinfectant liquid, Dettol soaps and sanitisers to the HPT-trained health workers, ASHA workers, local community animators and Adivasi leaders, local police units, social workers, local ration distributors of the community and the villagers and slum dwellers of the various communities. HPT has successfully reached out to 10 centres in Raigad district and the Mumbai slums, distributing 4,450 medical kits worth Rs 3,23,000/-.
HPT's major intervention in the first phase has been in Raigad District; the majority of the inhabitants belong to the most primitive tribal community who may be more susceptible to the virus, due to lack of access to basic equipment like masks, gloves, soaps, etc. Through social media, HPT has also been creating awareness among its direct beneficiaries on preventive measures recommended by the AYUSH Ministry of India for developing one's immune power to combat the ill effects of the virus.
HPT will implement its second phase of intervention, starting from the first week of May 2020.
Relief Efforts at Mahim
More than 80 parishes in Mumbai are involved in the relief efforts, quietly serving the most vulnerable affected by the current lockdown. St Michael Church, Mahim, is one of them, with 250 food packets being distributed daily to senior citizens, migrants and daily wage workers at six centres, with the help of volunteers comprising adults, youth and religious sisters from the parish. The recipients are extremely grateful and reciprocate with prayers and blessings.
"For I was hungry, and you gave me food" (Mt 25:35a). The food is prepared by the youth of the parish, who prepare different dishes daily and transport it to the different distribution centres. We thank our parishioners who contributed generously towards this initiative. We salute all our collaborators who have taken this opportunity to serve and help the poor and the needy. Our Parish Priest, Fr Lancy Pinto, Fr Ashwin Castellino and the other priests have been unstinting in their support towards this project.
Sr Salomi BS, Bethany Convent, Mahim
Recollection for EMHCs
The Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHCs) of seven parishes of the Andheri Deanery were privileged to have a Recollection on Saturday, March 7, 2020, during the grace-filled season of LENT. The EMHC of Good Shepherd, Four Bungalows, Our Lady of Health, Versova, Christ the King, Jogeshwari, Sacred Heart, Mahakali, Holy Family, Chakala, St Joseph, Goregaon and host parish St Blaise, Amboli, joined in the Recollection.
The Recollection commenced with an Opening Prayer, scripture reading, Reflection and Prayer of the Faithful. Deacon Ivan Fernandes then delivered his input on DIES DOMINI (Keeping the Lord's day holy). He narrated a story of a family of four on holiday in Italy. Unfortunately, they meet with an accident and fall unconscious; they slowly regain consciousness only to realise that their son is no more. In their grief, they donate the eyes, heart and kidney of their dead son; three people benefited from their act of generosity. We too must be ready to sacrifice our lives for those in need.
He touched on the word "Liturgy" that comes from the Greek word Leiturgia (Leit means 'of the people' and Urg means 'work') — 'work of the people' or 'Reaching out in Service to humanity'. Christ wanted us, His disciples, to imitate Him, to give ourselves in service of others. The heart of the Eucharist is to be like Jesus. If this is missing, our 'Eucharist' is of no value. He explained the connection between the Passover meal of the Hebrews and the Eucharist, where Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Sunday, the Lord's Day, is a Holy Day, a special day and a day of Hope. Sunday is the very heart of Christian life. The Eucharist is the "fountainhead" of the Church. It feeds and forms the Church. As disciples of Christ, it is important that we come together (the ecclesia) to commemorate the Death and Resurrection of Christ. The Liturgy of the Word is GOD speaking to His people. St John Paul II noted Sunday as the "Day par excellence", a day of prayer in which the relationship becomes an intense dialogue with GOD.
Finally, with gratitude in our hearts, we could truly sing and shout with joy to the Lord in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, giving our triumphant Lord and Saviour all the honour and glory. The Recollection concluded with a vote of thanks given by Joe D'Costa, EM Coordinator of St Blaise.
Joyce Dias, EMHC, St Blaise Church, Amboli
Under Curfew With Christ
The prolonged lockdown in India has certainly brought a number of challenges in its stride. The year 2020 will certainly be remembered for a long time to come—as one which halted life as we know it, and altered our priorities. However, the forced break has also unearthed a number of blessings – one of which has been testing the relevance and resolve of the SCCs in our parishes. And one could say that for the most part, the SCCs have stood up to expectations, becoming the primary channel for reaching out to parishioners, identifying families and individuals in need of help, becoming a conduit for information to flow from the priests of the parish to families, and providing spiritual strength and succour to the elderly and homebound.
The nine SCCs of St Francis Xavier Church, Dabul have tried their best to keep the 'Church', the Body of Christ, alive and strong in faith and action ever since the lockdown began. The main church building may have been closed, but the Church has continued to subsist in its families in the various communities, thanks to the hard work and enthusiasm of the SCC Coordinators and animators.
The first challenge was satisfying a spiritual hunger, especially as it became more and more clear that Holy Week would pass by under lockdown. A number of spiritual activities were conducted by the SCCs, both before and after Easter. Following the example of the Youth Group, a number of communities came together to record an audio Way of the Cross; each station was recorded by one family, and then all the 14 Stations were put together, and passed on to all the families of that community, so that they could use that to pray. This was done each Friday through Lent. Thus, it became personal and endearing, since one could hear familiar voices reciting the prayers and reflections.
The same was done with the Rosary and the Divine Mercy novena. Communities have come together on video chat platforms like ZOOM to pray together. The children were included with a beautiful video brought out showing the children of one community reciting Psalm 91 (You can watch the video at this YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKEq0wRuL00). The children have also been anchored to the parish and to their faith with regular faith-based activities through the Sunday School, which they do at home and send a picture of their project or activity to their Sunday School teacher through WhatsApp. These activities are called Curfew with Christ. The Youth have been doing various online activities under the guidance of Fr Joshan Rodrigues. In addition, all the Holy Week services and now, the Sunday Eucharist is streamed from the Fathers' chapel, which has helped parishioners remain attached to their priests, Fr Leonard Noronha and Fr Joshan. The Mass is made interactive and participative – the readings are done by a member of the family at home, and post-homily, we are given two questions for discussion before we move to the next part of the Mass. Links to the Cardinal's Daily Mass and the evening Catechesis sessions are passed on to every family in the community.
The SCCs have also reached out materially and financially to those in need. From running errands to buying groceries and essential items, procuring gas cylinders, buying medicines, providing food and rations to poor persons and families in the neighbourhood, irrespective of religious affiliation – everything is done to help, so that no one is in want. It is a spiritual blessing that this is taking place at a time when the daily readings talk about how the early Christian community came together to pool all their resources together under the stewardship of the Apostles (Acts of the Apostles). There are also moments of joy when community members surprise a person celebrating a birthday with a beautiful home-made cake and cards. The elderly, homebound and those living alone are particularly vulnerable during this time, and SCC animators make it a point to check up on each one of them regularly.
We pray that the lockdown is over soon so that we may return to the spiritual sustenance of the Eucharist as soon as possible. But until then, we continue to be a Eucharistic community, doing the best we can, adapting and changing to the new situation, and trying to be a family, where every family member is looked after and sustained spiritually, emotionally and physically.
Venimus Vidimus Vicimus
In the third week of March 2020, without knowing what we know today and given all the mayhem caused due to the outbreak of COVID-19, one would have certainly questioned the ability to stay spiritually connected. Churches were closed, social distancing was the buzzword, the city was in lockdown, and we were in the middle of our Lenten season.
But we at St Teresa's Church, Girgaum didn't allow all of that to dampen our 'quest for spirituality', although it seemed impossible!
After much thought and discussion, it was decided that the priests, along with the parishioners, would begin an intercessory group; the main purpose of this group was to fight COVID-19 through prayer and intercession. Without any delay and through social media, mainly WhatsApp, we rallied our troops, our 'prayer warriors', and thus began our journey to spirituality amidst a lockdown.
The journey began on March 18, 2020 with 'Round the clock intercession' and our prayer warriors ensured the continuity of prayer until March 31. Offering a Holy Hour or more hours 24x7. The challenging hours were 11 p.m. till 6 a.m.. Yes, the doors of our church were closed but what began to happen was even more beautiful; our homes became mini churches! Families who otherwise couldn't pray together now made the time to do so—be it saying the Rosary, reading scriptures, the Way of the Cross and the COVID-19 prayer. A booklet of these prayers were made available to all. People experienced the presence of the Lord in many different ways, and sharing those experiences only brought people closer together in prayer and spiritual growth. But that was just the beginning.
April 1 saw the start of our continued effort through prayer for protection and for those affected by the virus—'1000 Rosaries'. More parishioners joined in; more families found themselves in prayer together, bringing our second prayerful initiative to a close just in time for our third spiritual initiative, 'The Divine Mercy Chaplet', beginning April 10 until April 19—offering more than 100 Chaplets to end COVID-19.
While we had our prayer warriors praying, we had many others preparing for the various services leading up to the Easter Triduum. It was our goal not to allow the many COVID-19 restrictions to get in the way of Holy Week.
Right from Mary's Way of the Cross on April 4 to all three services during the Triduum, the Adoration on Maundy Thursday, the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday and the Seven Sorrows of our Lady on Holy Saturday, we had parishioners give of their time willingly to film, edit, sing, read the scriptures and serve—all for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The prayer warriors continued their intercession praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet; the feast of which was celebrated as one big family on April 19. St Teresa's prayer warriors carried on praying for protection against the virus and for those affected by it, following the 'Lectio Divina'. This traditional monastic practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer continued until the end of April. We continue to pray the Rosary daily through the month of May.
'Venimus Vidimus Vicimus' — 'We came' in huge numbers in prayer; 'We saw' and didn't allow it to break us, and 'We conquered' just as our Lord did, and we will continue do so!
Vanessa Bocarro St Teresa Church, Girgaum
The Least of These
With the active support of our Parish Priest, Fr Nelson Saldanha and the backing of our parent organisation having its headquarters at Mahim, Mumbai, the Bombay Catholic Sabha (BCS), Infant Jesus Unit, Pant Nagar swung into action and appealed to the generosity of its parishioners to contribute towards the relief efforts. The parishioners, in turn, opened their purses and expressed their solidarity. Slowly and gradually, the amount began to swell, and a substantial amount was collected that would enable the BCS to start distribution of food grains to the needy persons, in and around our vicinity.
Till May 1, we had organised distribution of three rounds of food grains to about 400 families, including around 150 families of constables of the Mumbai Police attached to the Pant Nagar, Ghatkopar Police Station, in gratitude for their dedicated service. We intend to organise a few more rounds of food grain distribution in the coming days, as there are clear indications of the lockdown being extended by the Government of Maharashtra. Though we are faced with a shortage of funds, our goal is to touch the lives of the needy, and extend our help in any small way we can.
During these trying times, members were also apprehensive of contracting the virus, while involved in this outreach effort. However, till date, the good Lord has kept all the volunteers healthy and safe, which has emboldened us to continue to work for the marginalised during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thomas John, Infant Jesus Church, Ghatkopar (E)
Snehalaya Family Service Centre is offering counselling services by phone or online during the lockdown, especially for married couples and families. A few priests and lay persons have offered their counselling services to help cope with these challenging times. This service will be available free of cost. To schedule an appointment or for any assistance please contact: 9321179831 from Monday to Saturday between 9 a.m. and 6.00 p.m.