Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bihar priest named man of the year

Catholic News, India Dec. 23rd: - A national weekly has named a Catholic priest as its “man of the year,” in recognition of his efforts to restore the life of some 50,000 leprosy patients in Bihar. The Kerala-based “The Week” selected Father Christudas of Bettiah diocese for its 2009 recognition and ran the cover of its December last week edition with his photograph. The announcement “is a great way to celebrate the year for the priests,” Bishop Victor Henry Thakur of Bettiah told UCA News on Dec. 21, reacting to the news.

The 71-year-old priest’s Little Flower Centre is in Sunderpur village in Raxaul town on the India-Nepal border, an area known for large number of colonies for this socially segregated people. The priest began the center in 1981 with about 100 people suffering from leprosy. “He is a one-man army who gave 50,000 lepers and their families a fresh start in life. He gave them treatment, dignity and more importantly the will to live and smile again,” The Week’s cover story said.

The center spread over 8 hectares of land grows wheat and runs a poultry farm that meets 40 percent of its needs. The complex includes a school, hostel, hospital, work center and a village of 200 families — all cured patients. The Week article explains how the son of a liquor vender from Kerala’s Edamaruku village traveled to different places in India in his quest to become a missionary priest before settling in Raxaul. He first joined St. Paul’s Society to become a priest but returned after failing exams. He spent some time in Yercard, Tamil Nadu, with a Brother’s congregation and later joined the Bothers of Missionaries of Charity, before becoming a priest and incardinated in the diocese.

The integration of the leprosy patients and their families in mainstream society is “the sole purpose of my work,” says the priest, who once noticed a leprous patch on his angle but got it cured. The priest expressed people reading reports about his work would change their mindset about “our people.” Bishop Thakur said the recognition has gladdened him because the whole India would come to know about the priest’s “commitment, dedication to the healing ministry to the most disadvantaged.” The prelate also said that Father Christudas is locally known as “Baba” or a revered elder, but “the honor has made him known nationally and internally.”

“The Week” said Bihar’s northern region now has 22 leper colonies, 10 less than when Father Christudas began his center 28 year ago. “And only patients are the older generation,” it said. The priest wants his rehabilitation center to flourish, but is also looking forward to a time when the hospital will have no patients. “Then I will know that my life has been a worthy one,” he told the weekly.
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