MUMBAI, India – Cardinal Oswald Gracias is calling on the people of the Archdiocese of Bombay “to create linkages between the urban consumer communities and the rural producer communities” during this Advent.

The Indian cardinal’s remarks came as he launched the 2018 Advent Campaign against Hunger and Disease with the theme, “Connecting Communities, Promoting Livelihoods.”

“We have been training several vulnerable communities to revive their traditional livelihoods, explore alternate livelihood options, and provide employability skills development facilities to the youth,” the cardinal said. “We are also working on connecting various urban communities and corporates to provide marketing as well as employment opportunities for the marginalized.”

Every year, the Advent campaign is organized by the Center for Social Action of the Archdiocese of Bombay, the former name of the city of Mumbai.

The director of the center, Father Mario Mendes, told Crux the campaign has a two-fold purpose.

“On the one hand it is an occasion to raise awareness on an issue of social concern among the people, and on the other is our annual fundraising effort across the parishes and churches of the archdiocese. Over the years we have highlighted various issues and raised funds for responding to the root causes of hunger and disease through our social work interventions,” said the priest.

Mendes said the “Connecting Communities, Promoting Livelihoods” theme hopes to highlight the need for rural-urban linkages for mutual benefit.

“We are working with vulnerable people in the slums of Mumbai, with the fishing communities along the coast line of Mumbai and Thane districts and the tribal communities in the hilly regions of Raigad district,” he said.

“Our interventions in these areas have focused on reviving traditional livelihoods, as well as helping the people explore alternate livelihoods. We have facilitated the formation of Self-Help Groups, also known as microcredit groups, usually consisting of 10-15 women from the neighborhood. We give them various training programs to enhance their skills and connect them with marketing opportunities in the city to sell their produce. This results in a win-win situation, wherein the rural producers get maximum returns through the elimination of middlemen in the supply chain, and the urban community benefits from fresh and natural produce from rural neighborhoods at competitive prices,” Mendes told Crux.

The priest said the center also conducts vocational skill development training “to enhance the employability skills of youth” by organizing certification courses on specific skills and helping with job placement.

Mendes said three values are integral to his work: Love, equality and non-discrimination, and socioeconomic justice.

“The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church teaches us that ‘Christian love leads to denunciation, proposals and a commitment to cultural and social projects; it prompts positive activity that inspires all who sincerely have the good of people at heart to make their contribution.’ All our interventions are thus a loving response to the situation around us,” the priest said.

Speaking about quality and non-discrimination, Mendes quoted the compendium again: “The Church sees in men and women, in every person, the living image of God himself … God shows no partiality… since all people have the same dignity as creatures made in His image and likeness.”

“Affirming the same, we work with people of all faiths, castes, ethnic origins, languages or any other distinguishing features,” he said.

Noting the Church teaches that each person must have access to the level of well-being necessary for his or her full development, Mendes said this spirit “animates the interaction of vulnerable communities with various stakeholders like the elected representatives, government offices, corporate houses, funding agencies, et cetera for our developmental projects.”

Gracias said the campaign helps stress the importance of being “effective instruments in making the Church more Christ-like, and our world more humane.”