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Mission among tribal Munda in the footsteps of Mother Teresa

Sept. 5, 2013

Fr Lino Fernandes runs the mission in Siadih (Jharkhand), which includes mostly tribal Munda. He does so following in the footsteps of Mother Teresa, "an inspiring example of strong faith and passionate charity, an extraordinary witness of the path of spiritual infancy and a great teacher of the value and dignity of every human life". Since today is the liturgical memory of the Blessed of Kolkata, the occasion is twice as important for the priest and his community, whose parish is named after the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity. Fr Fernandes is a member of the Missionary Society of Our Lady of the Pillar (Saint Francis Xavier), an order that developed in India but established in Portugal.

"Here in Siadih," he told AsiaNews, "we try to follow in the footsteps of Blessed Mother Teresa with the local population, the children who attend our school and hostel and the faithful who come from distant villages." Altogether, some 45 families from 25 villages, 10 located 15-20 km from the church, belong to the parish. "Our life here is very simple," Fr Fernandes said about the mission's activities. "The day begins at dawn, because we do not have electricity. We must attend to our own affairs for as long as there is light." "Agriculture is an important part of our mission. We have fields, and are totally dependent on rainfall for cultivation. However, we also grow our produce by drawing water from the nearby river to irrigate. Recently, we harvested about 8 kg of okra, which children like a lot."

Everyday life is an ongoing challenge, the priest noted. "Communication is very difficult. Not only don't we have any electricity but we also have no means of transport. The only public bus runs once a day, in the morning, and the bus stop is at 30 km from the mission. My jeep, which is another must, broke down, so it is hard to go to the market to get essential goods." Medical care is another major issue since almost none is available at the mission. "We must travel at least 35-40 km to find a doctor. The convent, which works with us, has a trained nurse, but with malaria and jaundice so widespread, we need a permanent dispensary and health services." In order to overcome daily hardships, Fr Fernandes follows Mother Teresa's example. "We ask for grace to heed the cry of thirst from the Cross and joyfully love Christ in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor, especially those most unloved and unwanted."

Life in the mission is not only hard work but also a lot of satisfaction. "About 120 boys and girls study in our school and live in our hostel. Children are educated up to middle school and hostel; we take care of the small tribal Munda, bringing them the light of love, just as Mother Teresa did. It is gratifying to quench the burning thirst for Jesus by serving with enthusiasm our children and those of the more distant villages." Reaching these towns is another challenge. Not only are they far, up to 30 km in some cases, but we must cover half of the distance on motorbike and half on foot.

"Only one or two Catholic families live in these villages, but their joy, when we visit them, encourages us and renews our dedication." "As a Pillar missionary, it is really gratifying to serve this mission because I carry with me the testimony of two of the greatest missionaries of the universal Church, Mother Teresa and St Francis Xavier, this in the Year of Faith. Pope Francis has encouraged every one of us to be a missionary and his Lumen fidei exhorts us to be radical in our mission."


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