Hope for the Least of God's Children


It was in Bihar State that Mahatma Gandhi first launched his nonviolent civil disobedience campaign, which ultimately led to Indian independence.

But today that is little more than history for those living in Bihar, the poorest state on the Indian subcontinent.

When Catholics here pray the words ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ they do so in earnest, as many of them do not even have the bread they need.

And when they pray, ‘Forgive us our trespasses’, many have in mind the burden of financial debt that they can never shake off, on account of sinful rates of interest.

This particularly affects Christians, who almost all belonging to the Dalits, the lowest caste in India.

  • They are not allowed to drink from public wells;

  • They are forced to live in hovels on the edges of towns and villages and frequently

  • They cannot even send their children to the state schools.

This is why a disproportionately high number of them are illiterate. But the diocese has set up Small Christian Communities (SCCs), which are helping small groups learn to read and write. Most of those in these groups are women. They are also learning basic life skills like cooking and needlework.

In SCCs also they pray together and learn more about their faith and about Jesus; that every one has equal dignity in the sight of God; and that the family can be a place of selfless love – so they can bring the message of Christ’s joy into their poor homes and hovels, and into the hearts of their families. In the diocese of Buxar 300 women are involved in one of these programmes.

They are also learning that they are not outcasts, that their faith unites them and that they can mutually support one another. We are supporting these communities.

The poorest of the poor among the Dalits are the Musahars. They are being ministered to by the Claretian Fathers, who have asked our help to build a multipurpose hall where Musahar children can learn to read and write, to pray and grow together and be ministered to in their spiritual needs.

The Fathers explain that such a building ‘would be a blessing for these people and would give them a sense of self-confidence and an awareness of their own dignity’. We are being called to help the Claretian Fathers bring the hope and joy to these long suffering souls.

Edward Barrett