Fr. Kelum DIAS, a professed Oblate since 2000 and a priest since 2007, tells of the missionary commitment of the Church in Padaviya.
As the parish Priest in this mission field of Padaviya, I have worked for more than five years in collaboration with the Good Shepherd Sisters. In spite of difficulties (especially financial) we have struggled to be faithful to God who has called us to leave comfort zones to care for the less privileged people who are struggling in the periphery to safeguard their dignity and self-esteem.
According to my understanding of mission, I feel I am not merely the parish priest of the few Catholic families living in this area. I do not consider myself only as an administrator of sacraments. God has placed me in this part of the country to be with the disadvantaged groups, and cry out to God for help. I believe in an apostolate of presence. To respond more effectively to people’s aspirations there is need for more dedicated competent persons, ready and available to become partners with us.
Since we cannot cater to all those villages we have decided to work in the most abandoned village called Namalpura, 30 kms away from Padaviya.
We visit Namalpura every Saturday to teach English to children and to animate children’s societies. Good Shepherd Sisters from Padaviya and from other convents take a keen interest in working with these people. They impart life education to the women, helping them to develop their skills. To resolve the problem of malnutrition in the children, they have started a project of providing lunch on weekdays for the school-going children and the preschool children of the area. The parish provides lunch on Sundays to the Daham Pasal (catechism) children.
When we started work at Namalpura, the people hadn’t either electricity or water. They often had to face the threat of wild animals, mostly wild elephants. The Good Shepherd Sisters and I met the government officials and spoke to them on behalf of these people. We discovered that facilities already approved for the people had not been provided. With our intervention, writing a number of letters and paying personal visits, we were able to get electricity to the village, and wells and also an electrified fence to prevent wild animals from entering the village. Since people’s nutritional needs are barely met and many of them get only a meagre meal, we see the need to provide them with dry rations. Access to safe drinking water is an acute problem that has continued for several years.
Since the families are very much scattered, the children can hardly afford to travel to the church and also to purchase the required stationery. The children are intelligent and talented and we try our best to help them attend the Sunday school. However our resources are very limited. If and when the children are to participate in activities organized by the diocese, and the teachers are to participate in the training programmes / seminars, they have to travel to Anuradhapura and we do not have adequate finances to meet their expenses. Each trip costs approx. Rs.850/- per child/teacher. However, the active participation at Sunday school and other activities will certainly help to transform the lives of these children.