Our projects in Northern India
Since the mid-70s Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has committed itself to working with its long-term pastoral projects in the country with the second largest population. ACN supports Catholics in the North of India, where a large number of the faithful – our sisters and brothers – are Dalits or tribal people. Both groups are very much neglected and extremely poor and discriminated in the Indian societal structure. The Catholic Church is providing them above all spiritual support through various pastoral initiatives. For “man does not live from bread alone”. There is material poverty, but faith makes a difference. The poorest of the poor suddenly feel stronger when they become part of a community. This experience is so overwhelming that they are willing to make major efforts to achieve it. For instance, they have to walk for hours or spend the little they earn – rarely more than one or two dollars per day – on transportation to get to their nearest church. For families who live off the land, working in the fields, it means that initially they have to give up even more. To have a church or chapel built close to their village is a priceless gift to them. A chapel or church not serves only as a place to gather and worship. It is also a visible sign of communion and shared faith. It strengthens the identity of Christians, which is so important to this marginalized but engaged community.
The presence of a catechist in the village is also extremely important. In this part of the world, catechists are the lifeblood of the Church especially for Dalits. Catechists are those who lead the community and give hope and consolation. Catechists are in direct contact with the local population. They are the first persons to be involved in faith formation. They create a religious atmosphere in the village. The catechists, as all their neighbours, work in the fields. Their income is so low that they can barely survive. ACN gives them the possibility to attend Christian faith formation courses where they also learn how to develop new perspectives for their daily lives and to build their community.