MUMBAI, India – An international Catholic ministry aimed at helping married Christians live holier lives is helping families in one of India’s poorest areas.

Couples for Christ, founded in the Philippines in 1981, established ANCOP (ANswering the Cry of the Poor) to help work for social justice through community development and education.

In 2012, Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar in India’s Odisha state was introduced to Couples for Christ during a visit to Toronto and invited them to come to his archdiocese.

“I was interested. I understood that CFC would be of missionary service to our couples in Kandhamal, and in our Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar,” Barwa told Crux.

Kandhamal was the scene of India’s worst anti-Christian pogrom in 2007-2008, and Barwa said Christian couples and families suffered unspeakable trauma.

A series of riots led by radical Hindus left roughly 100 people dead, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed, and 50,000 people displaced, many forced to hide in nearby forests where more died of hunger and snakebites.

The mobs had been incensed by rumors that Christians had killed a local Hindu holy man. (It later emerged that the holy man had actually been assassinated by Maoist guerillas in the area.)

“The CFC could be a great help and support to our couples; once couples are strengthened, then the families are strengthened and united, then the faith increases, their family and faith commitment increases and the Church grows and this is new way of being church and witnessing to Jesus,” the archbishop explained. “I discerned that CFC will help our couples and families grow in faith and in their role as Christian families to be strengthened in faith and in their charism as couples and as families.”

A mission team from Toronto, composed by Jun and Malou Clarito and Francis Almeida came to India, and the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar now has about 500 members of Couples for Christ.

“The trauma of the  Kandamal violence had a drastic damaging effect on the education of our children, and the CFC collected funds and they are doing  great work. They are doing great service for our people,” Barwa said.

The archbishop told Crux that he heard about the ANCOP programs and was keen to have the Educational Sponsorship Program (ESP) initiated in his archdiocese.

ESP is a one on-one-sponsorship program matching donors with children in targeted areas. Initially, 168 children were sponsored in the archdiocese, and currently 563 are receiving aid from ANCOP.

This week, ANCOP’s program head Al Edward Basilio was in India, and told Crux the history of anti-Christian violence in the area was of special significance to him.

“I am really inspired to know the sacrifice of Kandhamal people who witnessed Christ even unto death,” he said.

“The suffering of the people in Kandhamal was horrific: Families destroyed, children looking into a bleak future. ANCOP answers to the cry of the poor and the marginalized by responding to their needs through sending children to school or back to school, helping build their homes, providing for their basic needs,” Basilio said.

In addition to the children sponsored by the group’s education program, they also give assistance to some seminarians studying for the priesthood.

“Faith without work is dead,” Basilio said. “At CFC, we are building the church of the home and building the church of the poor, through ANCOP. CFC is the heart; and ANCOP is the hands of CFC.”

Basilio is originally from the Philippines but immigrated to Canada. He was in the archdiocese Dec. 5-12, spending three days in Kandhamal.

“The ANCOP movement extends its help to the abandoned and neglected children in partnering with Catholic parishes. We answer the cry of the poor through effective child education and community development programs, anchored on values formation,” he said.

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