Group helps widows of persecuted Christians in India

GREENVILLE—For two years, Rita Larrivee has worked to help 100 widows in India whose husbands lost their lives simply because they believed in Christ.

The women live in the state of Orissa on the Indian east coast. Violence against Christians in the Kandhamal district there erupted in August 2008 after right-wing Hindu activists blamed Christians for the assassination of their leader. According to published news reports, 100 Christians were hacked to death, more than 6,000 homes burned, and 350 churches and Christian schools destroyed.

Hundreds of women and girls, including a nun, were sexually assaulted. More than 46,000 Christian refugees fled the area, and an estimated 10,000 are still displaced today. The victims included Catholics and members of other denominations.

Larrivee, a neonatologist who attends Greenville’s St. Mary Church, learned about the violence after watching a news program on Eternal World Television Network and wanted to do something to help.

The Orissa situation hit home with her because she was raised in a Catholic family in India and still has relatives there. She said her ancestors survived persecution in South India because of their beliefs.

“I originally thought I’m just one person, how am I going to help or get anybody to donate to this cause?” Larrivee said. “I really feel like the Holy Spirit has guided it. You can feel the guidance of the Spirit when you do this kind of work.”

Larrivee, her mother, other relatives and supportive friends started a fund to help the widows. They work with a priest from Divine Word Missionaries and a nun of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Annecy who is in Orissa.

Many of the widows had trouble feeding their families and themselves, so Larrivee collected donations to provide each one with a goat, a chicken and vegetable seeds.

“People like to know that these women are going to get an option to renew their lives,” she said. “The goats are having kids, the chickens produce eggs and the garden produces food. Even a few dollars can help a family have enough to eat.”

Efforts are also underway to build small houses for the families, and collect money to enable their children to attend Catholic schools. Some of the women need supplies as basic as blankets and new saris.

Larrivee said the women are also enrolled in self-help groups and receive microloans to start small businesses.

India, with a population of more than 1.2. billion, is only about 2.3 percent Christian.

More violence was reported in Orissa during the Christmas season, according to the Zenit news service. A man who worked as a catechist was killed, and the homes of recent Catholic converts there were burnt while they attended midnight Mass. In a nearby province members of other denominations were attacked while they sang Christmas carols in a house.

Larrivee hopes more people will consider helping through donations and prayer.

“Prayer is definitely needed,” she said. “Pray not only for India, but for the faithful who are persecuted everywhere.”