Regional Director M.L. Thomas knew just the candidate for this interview: Father Roy Matthew Vakdakkel.
He makes it a point to see that nobody is deserted in the streets or at homes nearby, we learned. He feeds and looks after them by collecting help from local residents. Father Vakdakkel gets help from everyone, and gives help to everyone, Mr. Thomas wrote, regardless of religion and caste.
The 44-year-old Syro-Malabar priest has set up and now runs numerous programs to help the poor and the outcast, and many receive support from CNEWA. Hes especially proud of the construction projects hes begun, including one that has built harvesting tanks for rainwater, like the one shown above.
We exchanged e-mails with Father Vakdakkel, who shared with us some of his story.
ONE: First, tell us a little bit of your background.
Father Roy Mathew Vadakkel: I was born in a small village called Peruvanthanam in the Idukki district on 26 January 1968. Our village is surrounded by hills and valleys and the region is very attractive during all seasons.
My father was a farmer. I have one sister and one brother.
After finishing high school, I joined the minor seminary of the Eparchy of Kanjirapally — that is, Mary Matha minor seminary at Podimattam. I then studied philosophy and theology at St. Thomas the Apostle Major Seminary in Vadavathoor.
ONE: What made you want to be a priest?
Father Roy Mathew Vadakkel: My mother, who died when she was just 46, was a very pious lady, and her great wish was that I should become a priest. She sent me to church every day for Mass. She taught me prayers and showed me by her own actions how to live for the poor and the needy. So I always had the urge to become a priest and to help the poor.
While I was in the major seminary, I used to visit prisoners, beggars, the sick and other forsaken people.
ONE: What are some of the projects you are involved with today?
Father Roy Mathew Vadakkel: We have two orphanages that provide boarding facilities for 95 schoolchildren — San Jose Bala Bhavan for boys and Mar Thoma Balika Bhavan for girls. We have another two orphanages providing facilities for 60 children with various disabilities; Asha Home serves mentally challenged children and Home of Peace cares for children with various physical disabilities.
We provide schooling and vocational training facilities for another 95 mentally challenged children through our special school called Ashanilayam, and another 40 children receive special training, schooling and therapy in our Ashadeepam training center for speech and hearing.
We also have a home for unwed mothers and abandoned children called Bethlehem Ashram and a care home for terminally ill patients called Serenity Home. Through these centers, we provide facilities for poor and needy children and serve various others enduring challenges, to reduce their difficulties and pain.
We also offer financial assistance to those who are homeless or have a low income. We helped 600 people to construct a simple house with basic facilities.
We have a registered society called We Care Centre (wecarecentre.org), offering various kinds of help for the needy. I am in charge of 61 care homes in the eparchy, in which we give shelter, food, medicine and clothes to over 2,500 persons. We have a palliative care program that aims to provide services for those who are bedridden and chronically ill. We have another program called Be Able, in which services are given to persons with disabilities in the nearby community with the support of local government institutions. We also provide medical help and house construction help according to the need of people and the financial availability.
ONE: With all you do — and you do so much! — what has made your work most meaningful?
Father Roy Mathew Vadakkel: Our work strives to help the helpless, to help them have a dignified life.
We serve people from all religions, based on their need. Jesus said to his disciples I should be known to the people by your deeds. Thus, according to the word of God, we try to spread this message to the people by supporting them.
Most people in our area are farmers. They find it difficult to make ends meet with their modest incomes. In the hilly areas people have a hard time getting adequate drinking water during the summer. They may need to walk a long distance to fetch it. Thus, our housing projects and rainwater harvesting tank projects help.
ONE: What do you hope to do in the future?
Father Roy Mathew Vadakkel: I want simply to be a source of hope to the hopeless. There should not be any person with no one to look after them. I hope to do the most good for the greatest number of people by supporting them — by deeds more than words. Thus each life is to be dignified. As a priest, I have no other option but to dedicate my whole life in service to the poor. As it is said in the Bible, Wash each others feet … do good … and be merciful.
Greg Kandra is CNEWA’s multimedia editor and serves as a deacon in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.