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“We offer empowerment, not charity,” explains Social Services Director Father Varghese Kattup. “The emphasis is on raising peoples’ awareness,” he added. “It is better to teach people to catch fish than to give people fish.” This invaluable program guides the poor, regardless of caste or creed, through various social service activities located throughout each of the 26 Syro-Malabar dioceses.

Micro-credit programs encourage poor families to save their money; small loans offer women the opportunity to start their own businesses. A house-building program uses direct grants or loans to allow families to obtain basic housing. Health programs, latrine construction, safe drinking water, garbage recycling, biogas generators – which generate cooking gas from farm animal manure – smokeless stoves, organic farming and composting, AIDS awareness, vocational skills training, homes for the aged, orphanages and emergency disaster relief are just some of the many programs and services offered.

Anthony and Teresa are small-scale farmers with three children. They have two water buffalo and a tiny plot of land. The waste from these animals goes into a sealed tank, which creates biogas for cooking.

“Before we got a loan for biogas we had to forage for firewood to do our cooking,” explains Anthony. “We wasted much time. Now we have enough gas for all of our cooking and the remaining waste product is an even better fertilizer for our plants than the original manure.”

Another beneficiary, the widowed Ammini Mohan, used to live in a shanty made of plastic bags and sticks. Now she lives in an attractive concrete cottage provided by the church.

“I love my new home – I am so happy,” she declares.

Christian Life communities, which provide additional social services, exist in all parishes. Twenty-two-year-old Tennyson Jacob, a bright young man from Udayamperoor, explains that “when we give, we feel joy” and describes his voluntary work building houses for the poor. He is also involved in seminar camps for India’s youth, Bible conventions, blood and eye donation campaigns, cancer screenings and simpler projects like building Christmas cribs and making Easter decorations. Tennyson comments that the Christian Life communities and their thousands of young volunteers follow a two-pronged, “social and spiritual” approach in their work with those in need.

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is also influential in educating its country’ children. It runs an effective religious education program that provides religious instruction from an early age. Father Jacob Nangelimalil is the Director of Catechists for the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly. He explains how far-reaching and important the catechist movement has become in Kerala – for both Christians and non-Christians alike.

Christians run most of Kerala’s schools, even if they are funded by the state. School catechism in Kerala is called Moral Science and all students, regardless of religion, take classes in this subject. They must earn high grades if they are to further their education.

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Tags: India Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Church history Vocations (religious)