Children’s party (Bal melava) and a women’s party (Mahila melava) with different games, gifts, food.

by Nirmala Carvalho

Dec 22 2020

Fr Pascal Sinor, pastor at the Mary of Nazareth Church in Alibaug, is behind the initiative. Thanks to the social apostolate of the Church, a thousand tribal families will receive assistance for the celebration. To encourage the flow of worshippers, a large nativity scene was set up outside the church. Many Hindus are also praying before the baby Jesus.

MUMBAI – Fr Pascal Sinor, parish priest of the Mary of Nazareth Church in Alibaug (Raighad district), in the Archdiocese of Bombay, is organising outreach activities for the upcoming Christmas which will include non-Christians.

His initiative comes amid the health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has increased the needs, especially among the poorest, while weakening ties and hindering relations between people.

At present, it is even more important to boost “the social apostolate of the Church” by taking care of about a thousand tribal families, the clergyman told AsiaNews.

Local Church organisations have adopted 11 villages, cared for by as many teachers and two supervisors, as part of a project funded by the Centre for Social Action of the local archdiocese.

“Every year at Christmas we organise a children’s party (Bal melava) and a women’s party (Mahila melava) with different games, gifts, food,” Fr Pascal explained.

“This year, due to the pandemic I cancelled all the events, but kept only the food distribution. The gifts for the children will be given in January.”

Because of the coronavirus, health is the priority this year by respecting the basic rules, including social distancing, which precludes group events or community celebrations.

However, the pandemic has not eliminated needs and will not stop the Church’s outreach, which is to meet the needs of non-Christians as well.

On Christmas Day it is traditional for a thousand Hindus to pay homage to the child Jesus; they come to see the three nativity scenes set up by the parish and pray in front of the manger and the holy family.

“This year we have set up a large outdoor nativity scene, so that people can come to pray while keeping a distance,” the priest said.

The baby Jesus, the poor family, and the animals inside create a spirit that also fascinates Hindus, many of whom are tribal and poor. The way they worship the nativity scene is “a sign of how sacred and holy it is” and “worthy of adoration.”

Reshma Wadi, non-Christian indigenous teacher, agrees. “I work in six areas, each of which has 15 families from the Katkari tribe, with at least 300 children,” she told AsiaNews.

During the pandemic and the lockdown, Fr Pascal “handed out hot food rations to many families, including jobless tribal people, mostly daily labourers, farm workers or fishermen, poor people.”

A woman “explained to us about hygiene and what precautions to take to contain COVID infections. She then handed out personal hygiene kits. Each woman present brought back to her family what she had learnt at in the seminary.”

The Church has long promoted programmes for tribal women and girls, to improve their education and social and economic independence, as well as enhance their dignity and individual rights.

Such initiatives have great value, in a context in which women are still far too often relegated to the margins or helpless victims of violence, abuse and marginalisation. – AsiaNews