ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Supporting the Church in India

For decades, CNEWA has been in India, helping more than 25 million Christians. We’re still there.

India is a 1,270,000-square-mile country with an estimated 850,000,000 people, 25,500,000 of whom are Christian. There are approximately 13,000,000 Catholics in India, more than a quarter of whom are either Syro-Malabar (3,000,000-strong) or Syro-Malankara (500,000 members).

Christianity is the second largest religious minority after Islam, but the population distribution of Christians is very uneven. Most of the faithful are concentrated in the extreme south, where Christianity first took root, and the northeast, where important minority groups have been evangelized. The states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh together account for more than 60 percent of India’s Christians.

The state of Kerala, where CNEWA is particularly active, is about 20 percent Christian. CNEWA works predominantly in the areas under Eastern Catholic jurisdiction. Fifteen of India’s 24 Eastern Catholic dioceses are in Kerala. In addition there are about 35 Eastern Catholic religious congregations with whom we work; almost all of the generalates and mother-houses are in Kerala.

Our Association supports a number of seminaries, as well as a few needy child institutes, in areas under the jurisdiction of the Latin (Roman) Catholic Church, which is composed of more than 98 dioceses.

Our program in India, including the subsidies to institutions and grants for projects, has, for more than 10 years, been one of the major recipients of CNEWA funds. The majority of those sponsored through our person-to-person sponsorship programs – children, novices and seminarians – are from India: 19,422 of the more than 31,000 children; 1,924 of a total of 2,000 novices; and 3,448 of about 4,500 seminarians.

Approximately 80 percent of our funds allocated for special projects in India have been used for pastoral work; the remainder is reserved for our humanitarian and ecumenical programs.

The thrust of our work over the last three years has been to improve communication and cooperation with the local church hierarchy. This has included field visits to Eastern Catholic dioceses, religious houses and potential projects. Our relationship with the Holy See’s Congregation for the Eastern Churches has also been strengthened, especially in terms of our increased participation in making decisions regarding the distribution of funds to India.

During the last year we began to evaluate our sponsorship institutions by encouraging the bishops and religious congregations to evaluate the past performances of these institutions and to create annual priorities and five-year plans.

The following observations were made while visiting a number of child-caring institutes in Kerala:

• CNEWA funding is absolutely necessary. Our benefactors’ generosity is what keeps most institutions operating.

• A majority of the institutions employ tutors (resident and nonresident) to oversee the “after-school studies” or homework of the children. In addition, most employ cooks and servants to help take care of the children. All institutes are supervised by church personnel, but in most cases this supervision is part-time. Church personnel hold other day jobs (mostly teaching) for which they leave in the morning and from which they return in the evening. They may receive a small allowance.

• Children do not pay school fees for attending vernacular (Malayalam) schools, but they are required to pay minimal amounts for laboratory, library and sport activities. These fees are paid by the institutions. Most children live within walking distance of the respective schools. However, a few institutes, especially the ones with physically handicapped children, report that they pay transportation costs for school-going children.

• Most institutes admit children only after their fifth birthday and very few of them enroll orphaned children. However, I observed that all of the children came from extremely poor or dysfunctional homes.

• Children with families are encouraged to go home for the holidays (up to two months a year). Occasionally, the institutes pay the travel expenses for those who cannot afford to go home.

• Most directors reported minimal local donations. Minimal amounts are received from the government (60 rupees, or $2, per child per month for a fixed number of children).

• Most institutes have farmland and animals, which, when utilized, supplement the simple diet of the children as well as provide an additional source of income.

• Institutes with mentally or physically handicapped children may have higher expenses because of the children’s special needs.

• Children without families have nowhere to go after their 18th birthday. They are no longer eligible for CNEWA’s program, but these young adults stay on as employees of the institutes and help take care of the younger children. For those institutes with a majority of orphaned children, their support and further education is a major expense.

• Most directors report minor building repairs and maintenance of old buildings as an annual expense. Due to heavy monsoon rains, painting and repairing leaky roofs can be an annual affair!

• Many sisters who administer the Needy Child institutes live from hand to mouth and request assistance from their provincial houses whenever they run out of money.

On the whole the Needy Child institutes are quite modest. The children are provided minimal amounts of food, clothing, education, space and shelter. Directors cite ever-increasing costs and continually request more CNEWA sponsors and benefactors.

Continuing the evaluation of our sponsorship programs, we have begun to contact each seminary and bishop to clarify budgets, jurisdiction and rite.

Unlike the West, where a line has been drawn between religion and daily life, religious sensibilities are a part of daily life in India. This explains, in part, the large number of young men and women entering religious life in the Catholic Church.

It is not unusual to meet priests, sisters, religious and novices from the same family. Most parents cannot afford to send their son to seminary, or their daughter to novitiate. This is where we come in.

CNEWA’s sponsorship programs for major seminarians and novices enable young men and women to study, pray and work – thanks to the generosity of our friends.

The course is a long and arduous one.

A seminarian must study philosophy for three years; followed by one year of regency, or practical experience; and finally, four years of theology.

A novice will spend two to three years in formation, which may involve humanitarian and pastoral work as well as extended periods of prayer. After profession, she may spend a few years completing her education.

Many of India’s religious work far from home – Indian priests and sisters are present in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. Thus, the training that these men and women receive must be excellent – the potential influences are great.

In 1994, I met every one of the 24 ecclesiastical heads of the Eastern Catholic churches, discussing with them a variety of potential projects.

Subsequently we funded 55 special projects totaling $724,673. Eighty-five percent of this total ($612,900) was designated for pastoral projects, 12 percent ($85,773) for humanitarian projects and four percent ($26,000) for ecumenical needs.

Our pastoral program is extensive:

• We build, and repair chapels and churches.

• We support the construction of houses of formation, rectories and convents.

• Educational institutes and libraries for religious also receive CNEWA support.

Our humanitarian programs are likewise diverse. Agricultural programs, health care centers, needy child institutes, rehabilitation programs, schools and homes for the dying and disabled all receive CNEWA funding.

India is a land of many cultures, languages, religions and traditions. The strength of our India program lies in its respect for these diversities.

While supporting the work of the church in India, each program and project is evaluated within this context. Pastoral projects, such as the building of churches and chapels, are funded only after findings prove that the major faith – Christian or otherwise – will not interpret such construction as a form of proselytization. CNEWA encourages projects that nurture cultural unity and religious harmony.

Ms. Desai Sanghvi is our India Program Administrator.

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