India: Rights of women benefit all

SUMMERVILLE — Father Thomasaiah “Thomas” Reddimasu has worked at Catholic parishes in the wealthiest nation on earth and in one of the poorest regions of the world.

A native of India, he served churches in the Diocese of Charleston from 2001-2006  before being called back to his home country to become pastor of the largest parish in the Diocese of Warangal, in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

He oversees St. Anthony, the main parish church, plus 10 missions that serve about 7,000 Catholics. Along with celebrating Mass and the sacraments, he also deals daily with the issue of helping parishioners and others in a region overcome  with rampant poverty in the main town of Dharmasagar, and surrounding areas.

He recently spent several weeks at St. Theresa the Little Flower Church in Summerville while the pastor, Msgr. Edward Lofton, was on sabbatical.

In an interview with The Miscellany, he spoke about his work in India and the challenges of meeting his parishioners’ spiritual and material needs.

Father Reddimasu said one of his main goals is to help advance the status of women in St. Anthony and around Dharmasagar. A community’s economic status often improves when women’s lives improve, he said.

“Women in the area are still lagging behind men in many ways,” he said. “They make about $1.50 a day when they work. They don’t get respect in their houses. I’ve been working to get training for women in the area, to help them improve their talents, to start businesses. I want them to know that the church belongs to everyone.”

His projects include organizing small “saving groups” similar to banks that help women save money so they can eventually purchase sewing machines and other items to use for work at home. Some women eventually save enough money to open small grocery stores or other ventures.

Father Reddimasu has worked with groups of elders in villages to persuade them to allow women more of a voice in local government.

“We’ve encouraged women to stand in elections, and recently two were elected to a village council,” he said. “It gives them more of an equal voice and teaches them another skill — how to speak up for themselves and advocate for themselves.”

He also helps children. He has opened a boarding home for boys and girls. Many are orphans who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS epidemics, or had fathers commit suicide because they felt shamed at the loss of farms or other work.

St. Anthony has a school that serves 450 students from kindergarten through 10th-grade. Father Reddimasu has helped rural children take lessons in music and dance.

“Our goal is to help the children develop their God-given talents, because through those talents come career opportunities,” he said.

He said humility and simplicity are some of the greatest lessons to be learned from the people he serves.

Father Reddimasu recalled a Thanksgiving celebration held in November at the parish, and how children there expressed gratitude for having things many young people in the United States would take for granted.

“We had boys and girls get up to say what they were thankful for,” he said. “Do you know what they said? They were thankful just to have food, their clothing, parents who were alive, and for their relationship with God.”

Father Reddimasu said the children at the boarding home and at the school often work together without having to be told. One example is how they care for a sick or weak companion.

“These children really show Christ’s love for each other,” he added. “They automatically help each other because they know they’re in it together.”

Poverty does not dampen his parishioners’ enthusiasm for their faith. Religious education classes for children and adults are crowded, and Masses are well attended.

“I baptized 800 children and adults in one year,” the priest said. “These people were all excited because they knew they were going to be part of God’s family.”

Father Reddimasu said he was thrilled to visit South Carolina again because he sees the same love for the Catholic faith here.

“I’ve had an opportunity to witness with my own eyes the faith of the people here, and it impresses me,” he said. “People in the United States and here in the Diocese of Charleston are very religious, and I’m taken up with their generosity. They really want to give their time and their resources, to use their talents to give back to the church.”