MUMBAI, India – Over 500 meals were served by a Catholic children’s home in Mumbai to mark the World Day of the Poor.

Founded in 1957, the St. Catherine’s Home in Mumbai is managed by The Welfare Society for Destitute Children, a trust started by Father Anthony Elenjimittam, who died in 2011.

Volunteers distributed the meals at the gates of facilities as well as along the streets and bus stops of Mumbai’s Bandra neighborhood and the surrounding suburbs.

The World Day of the Poor was instituted in 2016 by Pope Francis at the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. This year it was observed on Nov. 15.

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“The World Day of the Poor is a very special and important day for us at St Catherine’s. We are a welfare society for the destitute, so it is a day of celebration where we ‘stretch forth our hands to the poor,’ in keeping with this year’s theme,” said Brother Joseph Sebastian, the director of St. Catherine’s Home.

Volunteers from St. Catherine’s Home in Mumbai hand out food on the World Day of the Poor, Nov. 15, 2020. (Credit: St. Catherine’s Home/Courtesy to Crux.)

The institute educates orphans and other poor people from early childhood until the age of 22. This is to make sure the students have basic job qualifications and the ability to live independently. It also helps prevent child labor and child marriage – problems prevalent on the margins of society in India.

In addition to its resident students, St. Catherine’s also serves non-residents from the neighborhood who are from the periphery of society.

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“In are in urban city of Mumbai, and we see hunger and homelessness all around. Poverty brings hunger, violence, abuse and accompanying problems personally or in society,” Sebastian told Crux.

“While there are thousands of pieces of research done on poverty, the solution lies in introducing the idea of a God-guided way of life in the economics, education and social living to bring the desired impact of eradication of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual poverty in a person or in a group or in a community,” he added.

The religious brother noted that the institute had just marked its 63rd anniversary of “healing, educating and empowering the lost ones.”

“Following in our founder Father Elenjimittam’s vision and guidance, we  journey to bring the unknown child to be known, unloved to be loved; abandoned and weeping to be comforted … as children of one humanity and children of one God,” he said.

Volunteers from St. Catherine’s Home in Mumbai give free haircuts ahead of the World Day of the Poor, Nov. 13, 2020. (Credit: St. Catherine’s Home/Courtesy to Crux.)

Elenjimittam was famous for calling the poor served by his apostolate “Angels in Rags.”

The lunch boxes handed out on the World Day of the Poor included a festive lunch and sweets marking the Hindu feast of Diwali, the Festival of Lights. The holiday is similar to Christmas in India society, in that it is a time of family gatherings and gift giving.

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“To prepare for World Day of the Poor, on Thursday we distributed used and secondhand good clothes to the people and on Friday we organized haircuts for the destitute to enable them to look good, clean and clothed with dignity,” Sebastian said. “The World Day of the Poor is their day, as they are the riches of the Church.”

This year’s World Day of the Poor took on special significance, since India is going through the turmoil caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The country has seen over 8.8 million cases of the disease, with over 130,000 deaths.

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India’s lockdown lasted over two months, and during the period the economy contracted by nearly a quarter, disproportionately affecting the country’s poorest.

“From the beginning of the lockdown, St. Catherine’s Home has distributed more than 100,000 hot nutritious meals to the destitute and homeless in Bandra,” Sebastian told Crux.

“They continue to serve breakfast and lunch at the gate of St Catherine’s Home and their volunteers distribute the food at the bus stops and junctions and railway stations. Even today there is a long queue of destitute waiting for their hot nutritious delicious meals, which have been cooked in the kitchen of St Catherine’s,” he said.