Persons, places and things: COVID compassion in India

Contributed
Father Francis Bashyam, center, arranged distribution of meals to migrants heading back to their villages by train this month.

By Barb Arland-Fye
Editor

Father Francis Bashyam sent me a message and photos of migrant workers preparing to board a train at the railway station in Bellary, Karnataka, India. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused extraordinary deprivation in India and Father Fran­cis, a close friend of Bishop Thomas Zinkula (and me, too) responded to God’s call. The Indian priest served as our guide last year during a multipurpose trip to India that included presentation of a peace award to the Dalai Lama.

In his message dated May 17, Father Francis wrote that a train with “1452 migrant workers is leaving to Jharkhand from Bellary. On behalf of my close friends, I am providing them with one meal. A packet of Kushka (rice dish), half a loaf of bread and a bottle of water. We do this so that migrant workers will reach home without being hungry during their journey and to be with their loved ones waiting for them.”

I could not imagine how Father Francis, who serves the poorest of the poor in the Bellary Diocese, could come up with the means to feed 1,452 migrants.  I responded, “Incredible! You and your friends put faith into action. Thank you for setting an example.”

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“More and more requests came from friends in the government to help prepare food packets and organize distribution,” Father Francis said. “One train with 1,500 passengers was leaving from Gulbarga, 200 miles from Bellary. Local fathers and sisters were very pleased to do this when I approached them. Within the next two days, two trains with 1,500 passengers each and 16 buses totaling 480 passengers left Bellary to Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. They all received food and water for the journey that would last over 40 hours.”

In that same post, Father Francis shared information about another extraordinary effort to help stranded migrant workers to return home. The compassionate response was literally lifesaving. A May 24 news report on bbc.com stated that “India’s strict lockdown to halt the spread of coronavirus meant that most factories and businesses shut down, rendering millions jobless.”

Many of these jobless workers, including day laborers, took long journeys to return to their villages, some walking on foot hundreds of miles, bbc.com reported. “And some of them never made it home as they died of exhaustion or in accidents.”

“Absolutely amazing. Like Jesus feeding the 5,000,” I posted. Father Francis replied, “All I could do was … good food .. sufficient quantity for the journey … served with dignity.”

“You fed Jesus,” I said. “We all need to follow that example with whatever means are available to us.”   

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org)


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