Bengal was forced to be on its knees, due to a double pandemic recently, Global Corona epidemic - Covid-19 and Super cyclone Amphan on May 20. Since March 25, 2020, until May 31, Bengal was under lockdown in four phases. The Catholic association of Bengal (CAB) could not remain silent in such pandemic affecting the lives of millions. Their response to these pandemic were spontaneous. In association with the Ministry of Disaster Management, Govt. of W.B. Mr. Javed Khan, dry rations were distributed in 12 parishes in three districts, Kolkata, Howrah and South 24 Parganas reaching out to approximately 1600+ families. Tetra packs of fruit juice were distributed to the policemen who were helping out the stranded people, the migrant workers in the streets and surroundings. The CAB carried out their operation Covid - 19 and Amphan by creating a network of willing parish priests, some generous donors, Religious and Government agencies.
It was their massive humanitarian service to the afflicted and helpless. The CAB team helped around 16 patients with medicals, ambulances and hospitalization. Thanks to the donors and the government officials, Govt. of West Bengal., Mr. Firhad Hakim, Mayor of Kolkata and Kolkata Police for their generous help and whole-hearted co-operation. There was an excellent coordination of at least 25 persons who assisted through networking in this project to reach out to the victims of dual pandemic in Bengal.
CAB, the Catholic Association of Bengal, is one of the oldest associations in Church in India. It’s 110 years existence witnessed two world wars, many people’s movements in Bengal, the Bengal famine, the communal bloodshed during partition movement, leading towards freedom of the country in 1947, Bangladesh freedom war in 1971 and others. Certainly, the CAB was not a silent spectator, but responded to various socio-economic needs and welfare of its people at large, as the country marched forward. The CAB by the virtue of its identity and mission is a registered platform and voice of the Laity in Bengal. It has been playing its definite role in the Commission for Laity within the hierarchical Church.
That was the era of socio-economic and political awakening, on the matters of Justice, Human rights and dignity of labour, among the people of good will towards the end of 19th century. Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891, helped the Church towards awakening the laity for justice and greater participation in the Church affairs. The most dramatic of changes came with the new vision of the Church during Pope John XXIII pontificate. His two major Encyclicals on social issues, Mater et Magistra (1961) and Pacem in Terris (1963) were the new impetus. Further the document, ‘ Church in the Modern World’, ( Gaudium et Spes) (GS 83-87) gives a prophetic call to the world on socio-economic and political questions. The Council urged all to “feed the person dying of hunger, because if you have not fed them you have killed them.” (GS 69) Thus, the Second Vatican council encouraged the laity to take active part, participating in the affairs of the Church and collaborating with the Church leadership in the dioceses and regions. At present, the CAB members are trying to be in service to those affected due to Corona pandemic and super cyclone Amphan.
Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, issued on November 24, 2013, and his address, to the representatives of a variety of movements, called “ Popular Movements” on October 28, 2014 are indications, which way the Church should move. The pope’s address of October 28, 2014 comes across as a quite passionate cry of outrage about the present unjust situation and of positive encouragement by Francis to his friends in these movements to continue their crucial work of empowering poor and marginalized people in their struggle to bring about a more just world. CAB in their effort to find the expertise are trying at their level to achieve such goals.
Towards the end of Evangelii Gaudium Francis invites his readers to follow Jesus by entering “fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep.” He adds that as we go “arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world.” and “we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives.” (EG 269)
In his address to the representatives of the movements, Francis says: “You have your feet in the mud, you….. carry the smell of your neighborhood, your people, your struggle! We want your voices to be heard – voices that are rarely heard. No doubt this is because….your cries are bothersome, no doubt because people are afraid of the change that you seek”. (Movements, Oct. 28, 2014)
For Pope Francis, “Solidarity….. means fighting against the structural causes of poverty and inequality, of the lack of work, land and housing; and of the denial of social and labor rights…..Solidarity, understood in its deepest sense, is a way of making history.” Pope Francis is all out to support such movements in the world in his dream of the Church that can truly make the “Church of the poor, for the poor.” (EG)
This spirit of reaching out to the suffering humanity in the face of Covid – 19 and the super cyclone Amphan, the CAB brought joy and gave meaning to their existence and life in mission.(Published on 8th June 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 24)