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Scotland rallies behind Syro-Malabar community after devastating Kerala floods

At least 400 people have been killed in the southern region of India — By PETER DIAMOND AND DANIEL HARKINS

Catholics have rallied around Scotland’s Syro-Malabar community after devastating floods left at least 400 people dead and one million people homeless in their native Kerala in India.

Scotland is home to at least 13 Syro-Malabar priests who serve in dioceses across the country, who have this week asked Catholics to be generous with their prayers and donations for flood victims.

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is the third biggest church behind Roman and Ukrainian, with around 4.6 million Syro-Malabar Catholics worldwide.

Bishop Stephen Robson of Dunkeld Diocese said he had four ‘great’ Syro-Malabar priests in his diocese, and that he was praying for those affected by the ‘absolutely horrific’ destruction in Kerala, especially the hundreds of people killed and their families.

Fr Johny Raphael, parish priest of St Clement’s Church in Dundee, had a tense five-day wait as he struggled to contact his brother in Kerala due to damage to power lines and electricity grids. He finally got through on Saturday, and found his brother was safe in a relief camp. His sisters meanwhile were flooded out of their house by five feet of water.

“But that is nothing compared to other people,” Fr Raphael said. “Some people went back to their house and there was only a door frame left.”

“I was a little bit worried about my brother but I had a feeling he was safe,” he added. “My brother and my sisters are safe, but there are so many people who have lost everything and we are concerned about them.”


Catholic community 

Another Syro-Malabar priest serving in Dunkeld Diocese, Fr Rogi Thomas, said the Kerala community in Scotland had cancelled a number of planned celebrations to focus on raising funds for the flood-hit region back in India.

He said 40 per cent extra rain had fallen during the disaster, which has resulted in thousands of people being housed in refugee camps, and families losing their livestock. In one region, Fr Thomas said, people will be unable to return to their homes for six months.

While the army are helping, the priest said that the mainly Catholic fisherman along the coasts had been drafted in to help victims, as their small boats can reach areas not accessible to the army.

“Most people are trying to go back home but the roads are inaccessible and there is the threat of disease epidemics and snakes in the tropical climate,” he said.


Financial help

Scotland’s international aid agency SCIAF has already sent £30,000 to provide rice, oil, beans, biscuits and basic household items like soap, toothpaste and buckets to thousands of people affected by the floods.

Experienced staff from their partner charity Caritas India are on the ground providing food, water purification tablets and hygiene kits to 20,000 families. They will also be making money available for ‘cash for work’ schemes to pay local people to clear flood debris.

Fr Paul Moonjely, executive director of Caritas India, said that while the gaze of the world’s media will move on, Kerala would be living with this tragedy for a long time.

“Farmers, daily wage workers and agricultural labourers won’t earn anything for the next two to three months. Thousands have no homes to go back to,” he said.

“There’s need for food, clothes, beds, mosquito nets, medicines, drinking water supplies and temporary shelters. Sanitation and hygiene has been severely compromised and the risk of epidemics is at an all-time high.

“After all these needs are met, there is a need for longer term rehabilitation, reconstruction and livelihood support for affected families.”

SCIAF and Caritas India are targeting those who are particularly vulnerable such as families that have lost their homes, families with disabled members and women-headed households.

So far, Kerala has already received 40 per cent more than its annual rainfall and some local people are calling it the ‘flood of the century.’ The rainy season can run to November. As well as providing immediate assistance, SCIAF say they will continue to work with those affected by the floods to help them rebuild their homes and livelihoods.

There are more than 500 Syro-Malabar families in Scotland, many from the Kerala regions that have been hit the worst.

Fr Joseph Pinakkattu, assistant priest at Holy Family Church, Mastrick, in Aberdeen Diocese said: “Within my parish a few families have been affected by the floods in Kerala.

“Some of their homes were affected and their relatives have been taken to relief camps.

Fr Joseph added: “If Scottish Catholics can raise some money to support those affected by the crisis it would be much appreciated.

“The Syro-Malabar community in Aberdeen have already unanimously decided to reduce the expenses of the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady [the major feast of Kerala Catholic community in Aberdeen] and send the money to help the people in Kerala.

“There was also a request from our diocesan centre to take a collection in our parish/mission centres and send to the diocesan finance office in Preston. You can contact our Bishop Joseph Srampickal, bishop the Syro-Malabar eparchy of Great Britain based at Preston.”

Fr Joseph Vembadamthara, assistant parish priest at St Cuthbert’s Church in Burnbank, said: “The floods in Kerala have been devastating, the worst for 100 years.

“There are many families in the region who are badly affected and have lost everything, including their homes.

“The response by SCIAF is certainly very welcome and if other Scottish Catholics or parishes can help in any financial way I would encourage them to do so, but if they can’t then please pray for the people of Kerala.”

On Sunday, Pope Francis prayed for victims of the flooding in the Indian state.

“In recent days,” he noted, “the inhabitants of Kerala have been harshly struck by intense rains, which have caused flooding and landslides, with heavy loss of human life, with many people missing and displaced, with extensive damage to crops and homes.”

The Holy Father voiced his hopes that ‘these brothers and sisters’ would always be supported by our solidarity, and by concrete support from the international community. In that regard, he expressed his closeness to the Church in Kerala, ‘which is at the forefront of efforts to bring aid to the population.’

– You can donate to SCIAF at or on 0141 354 5555.


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