MUMBAI, India – Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, says over 20 million people have been assisted by the Church in India during the COVID-19 crisis.

Christians only make up only around 2.3 percent of India’s population, or just over 30 million people.

“I got in touch with Caritas in India, I told the Director of Caritas, the Church cannot remain silent, we must do something, and they got in touch with every bishop and diocese, the Lord stepped in – every bishop in the country, every diocese organised massive relief,” Gracias said on Sunday.

“A small Church, but God worked. We bring out 5 barley loaves and 2 fish and God blessed it … What resources do we have to transform the world but give your 5 barely loaves and fish to me, and the World will be filled with the Gospel.”

Gracias said in the Archdiocese of Bombay – the former name of Mumbai – relief efforts were spearheaded by the Center for Social Action (CSA).

The CSA, through its partner organizations, has reached 25,000 households, distributed 60,000 cooked meals and spent over $100,000 in relief efforts.

India has 1.75 million cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus, with over 1 million of them being recorded in July. However, government experts are hopeful that the peak of the disease has passed in Mumbai, the country’s economic and cultural capital. Around 39,000 people have been confirmed to have died with the virus, although experts say the true number is probably far higher.

“As soon as the lockdown began, parishes in the archdiocese, besides religious Institutions, responded to address the suffering of migrants and daily wage-earners,” the cardinal said.

Parishes in the Archdiocese of Bombay also opened shelters for housing displaced migrants and offered facilities to serve as temporary residences for police and security personnel.

Father Mario Mendes, the director of the CSA, told Crux the entire Archdiocese of Bombay has reached out to vulnerable groups “in an inclusive manner by supporting people of various faiths, linguistic groups, Tribals, transgenders, rag-pickers, people with disabilities, elderly, women headed families, etc.”

He said 148 parishes and religious institutions responded to the cardinal’s appeal for help.

The task was made harder after Cyclone Nisarga lashed India’s west coast in early June, leaving some areas without power for nearly two months.

Father Pascal Sinor, the parish priest of Mary of Nazareth Church, said he distributed rations to 250 families belonging to the parish and another 500 families in a Tribal area.

“Presently, we are distributing solar lamps to 80 cyclone-affected Tribal villages in Raigad that had no electricity for two months,” he told Crux.

The Tribal community in India are the subcontinent’s indigenous peoples, and are often suffer discrimination and social exclusion.

“I have been visiting Tribals very often almost 12 village which are adopted by Mary of Nazareth Church and funded by Centre for Social Action,” Sinor said.

The priest said the parish is trying to empower women and young people with employment and education programs, and now are trying to get government support in light of the pandemic.

“There is a fear in peoples minds because of COVID-19,” he explained. “They don’t go out of their village, not even for their jobs. Somehow they manage on government and other agency rations.”

Father Joseph Borges, parish priest of the Church of Mount Carmel, also serves a Tribal mission in the archdiocese.

“We helped almost 600 families with rations and essentials,” he told Crux.

Mendes said the CSA is trying to facilitate and channel the resources of the local Church.

“The need right now is to rebuild the livelihoods of the weakest, and that is where all people of good will should focus their resources,” the priest said.