Catholic school in Mumbai feeding ‘angels in rags’ during coronavirus crisis

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MUMBAI, India – India’s poor are still dealing with the lockdown as the country still faces a rising number of cases of infections with the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Millions of internal migrants – most of the day laborers with little savings – were trapped far from home with little money when the lockdown was declared on March 24 with just a few hours’ notice.

There have been over 118,000 cases of the coronavirus reported in India, with over 3,500 deaths. The hardest hit state is Maharashtra, which has over 41,000 cases and nearly 1,500 deaths.

In the state’s capital Mumbai, the St. Catherine of Siena School and Orphanage has been distributing lunch and breakfast to the stranded migrants, the poor and the homeless in and around the suburb of Bandra, a traditional Christian area of the city.

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Brother Joseph Sebastian, the director of the institute, said this was in keeping with the founder, Father Anthony Elenjimittam (1915-2011), who affectionately called the destitute and orphan children under his care “Angels in Rags.”

“Our trust name is Welfare Society for Destitute Children. So the rejected destitute get preference irrespective of their status. These migrants, poor and homeless are also children of God and angels in rags! We also have a small St Ignatian prayer that begins with: To give not to count the cost. Ultimately St. Catherine of Siena is our Patron who served among the destitute and rejected,” Sebastian said.

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“We are just hands and feet of God Almighty. Our Founder, Father Anthony Elenjimittam had great love for the poor: It’s a privilege to serve ‘Angels in Rags.’ From Lockdown Day 1, our volunteers have been daily distributing 500 hot and nutritious meals at the railway station, bus stops and roadsides for the homeless. These meals are cooked in our own kitchen,” he said.

“Additionally, we distribute breakfast and lunch to outside our gate. Many destitute on the street were so thirsty, they wanted water more than the food, so we included bottled water with the lunch.”

Sebastian said in addition to the 500 meals distributed to the neighborhood, there are 100 children being cared for in the institute’s orphanage.

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The religious brother said it’s “a great sign and tremendous encouragement” that the volunteers helping with the charitable cause are ex-students from the school who offered to help in its efforts.

“Our volunteers are angels to the ‘Angels in Rags.’ Our volunteers come to Catherine’s and pick up the boxes of food and water and then go out for distribution. They travel on motorbikes – with special travel authorization and passes – and some on walking on foot,” he explained.

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Sebastian said the volunteers have told him they are happy to do the work, because it gives them a chance to give back to the institution that helped them when they were children.

“This bring me great joy, that besides education, self-reliance and independence, St Catherine’s has given our children a strong value system,” he told Crux.

St. Catherine’s also has a center in Murbad, located in the interior Maharashtra, which has a large Tribal population, who are India’s marginalized indigenous population. Staff from the institute have been distributing relief materials to the Tribal families in Fangloshi village and neighboring towns.

India reported its biggest single-day spike in virus cases on Friday, with 6,088 new cases. The country has the 11th most confirmed cases in the world. It has eased its nationwide lockdown to restart economic activities and gave states more power to set the next phase of reopenings. Some domestic flights will resume on Monday.

Crux