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Northern Cross Newspaper Article – 2011

An Indian Project – Overwhelmed By Peoples Generosity

My name is Mary Skaag a former parishioner of St Patrick‟s Consett. Forty six years ago I moved to Coventry to start my working life. There I am an active member of Holy Family Parish. However, throughout these years I have always kept in contact with St Patrick‟s as my family and friends still live in Consett.

After bringing up my own family and I was coming up for retirement, I was happy and privileged to be asked to take care of an Indian priest who had suffered a heart attack. Fr Sarves came to England in the year 2000 to recuperate after his illness and during this time he shed light on the sufferings of the destitute people from his diocese of Kadapa, South India. I was unable to appreciate the depth of the poverty that he was describing, but immediately I felt challenged with the urge to do something to help. At that time I did not know what I could do, but I did
decide to go to India the following year. My first impression of rural India was one of total shock. Never did I think
that a country which was growing so fast economically could leave people to live in cave-like stable conditions without sufficient food or water. I saw the elderly dying on the roadside, some eaten away by insects. I saw women giving birth on the mud floor and there were no schools for the children. When I spoke to Fr Sarves about this he told
me that 70% of the people in the diocese had insufficient food to eat and that they had to travel on foot to collect water from a pump in the ground as not all villages had water as some of the wells had dried up. There had been no rain for five years. I could not imagine anyone having to walk so far for water especially as the heat was often above 40 degrees Celsius. He also told me that 50% of the people were illiterate. Returning to England my first approach was to my Parish Priest to talk about fundraising. With his blessing our first annual sponsored walk took
place and raised £2,000.This event has taken place each year ever since. I spoke at length to my parents and also to friends who offered their support. During this time I was in regular contact with Fr Sarves who was actively looking for some land that could be bought so that better housing could be built for the people. I knew that the Lord would
provide in whatever way was best.

One Wednesday afternoon in February 2002, I knocked on the door of St Patrick‟s presbytery in Consett. Over a cup of tea I shared my experiences with Fr Jeffrey Dodds and told him that I had a burning desire to help the people in India whom I had seen without the basic needs to live a dignified God given life. Within half an hour, Fr Jeff was
speaking to me so positively and he agreed to have the first appeal in the Consett Partnership Parishes. Fr Sarves was coming to stay with me in the month of May and so I introduced him to Fr Jeff. This first appeal was a glowing success and Fr Jeff decided to visit India with me the following year. Each year Fr Sarves has returned to make appeals and the Indian project has certainly set hearts on fire. Priests who have been working in the Consett Partnership have also responded positively, Fr Michael Whalen, Fr Seamus Doyle and Fr Dermott Donnolly. Other
priests from the North-East who have had appeals include Fr James Dunne, Fr Joseph Park, Fr Sean O‟Neill, Fr John McElhone and Fr Michael Keoghan. Additional help has come each year from the „Mercy Centre‟ in Seaham and the Sisters from the Ebchester Convent.

During one of our appeals, Neil a taxi driver from Consett decided that he would help us out with donations from the tips that he received from his work. In 2010, he was going on holiday to India and contacted me asking if I could arrange for him to go to our Village. While there he telephoned and said, “Mary, I have been to India many times but on this trip I have actually seen the real poverty of India. You have created an oasis in the desert, I can see God in what you have done.” The money that has been collected over the years from my own deanery parishes in Coventry and these annual appeals in the North-East have been overwhelming. In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined that so many people would become part of this project and take it to their hearts. Fr Jeff Dodds has worked so closely with me. He has offered me so much encouragement by coming to India on four occasions. This year
he and Fr Sarves offered a „Thanksgiving Holy Mass‟ in May to recognise the achievements made over the last ten years. Over 200 people were present and afterwards we shared a buffet, drinks, entertainment and a PowerPoint presentation to show the people the progress of the project and the village which has been built by their faithful giving. Houses have been built for the destitute people. Each person has their own bed with a mosquito net. Purified drinking water is provided and hot water for domestic use comes from the solar panels which have been installed on top of the buildings. People are provided with three good meals each day. They also receive medical aid and are
given a dignified Christian burial when they die. The children receive an education funded by our sponsors and some of the older students have shown their potential to study as a doctor, a chemist and as nurses.

One high light for me is the chapel that has been built in the centre of the village. Here Holy Mass is celebrated every day along with the praying of the rosary. Although Fr Sarves is a Catholic priest, the gates of the village are open to all religions and castes. Twice a year I visit India to see the progress being made. In January 2011, I was accompanied by Fr Jeff and Margaret Price, a parishioner and friend from Consett. During every visit there is always a new challenge for me. This year Margaret and I had the privilege to be with a lady who was only hours from death. She had been found on the roadside and brought into the village. One of the Carmelite Sisters examined her and Margaret and I were horrified at the sight of her wounded body. She was in such a poor condition that the Sister was
only able to administer pain relief to help her have a more peaceful death. As I held this lady, Margaret and I prayed the Divine Mercy Prayers and as I looked into her eyes I sensed the presence of God. It was a most unforgettable feeling knowing that those eyes that were looking up at us, would soon be seeing the face of God.

From the response of the people here in the North-East I can most certainly say that they have taken the work of this project to their hearts. I feel that they have seen their response as a way to meet Christ in the poorest of the poor. This year our project has been granted charitable status here in England. Appeals made across the Hexham and
Newcastle diocese this year have been the most successful since Fr Sarves began in 2003. An amazing £14,300 has been raised. Part of this amount (£1,937) has been offered through the Lenten Giving in Consett earlier in the year. This will benefit sixty children with the following:-

1. 60 mattresses with bedding and a mosquito net.
2. 60 children will receive two sets of clothing including of footwear.
3. Each child will receive their own towel, toothpaste and brush, hair
care for one year.
4. Each child will receive a bag and school kit for one year.
5. Each child will receive medical care for one year.

Fr Sarves says – “My experience of fundraising and serving the needy is like Abraham‟s faith in God where he says God provides all that we need if we are prepared to do His will. To co-ordinate my programme here in
England God has given me Mary Skaag who is working full time on a voluntary basis for the charity. He has also given me the help of fellow priests, but much more, ordinary kind hearted people who are contributing to this great act of charity.”

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