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17 November 2021
It is almost a year since I have corresponded with you. In spite of this you have been very gracious to the Darjeeling Jesuit Province with your prayers and contribution towards the works of the Province. In your own way you have made a difference in our personal and communal life. It is not just the gifts that you gave us in the last one year that stand out today but the love with which those gifts were given. It is the sharing of your very life with us that has made us rich in Christ and more effective in our works of charity. You have given a part of yourself in every penny you offered to the poor. Hence, the grace of Christmas for me is a deep knowing in my heart just how much God loves me in and through you. It is a deep knowing how much God loves the world. It is knowing deeply just how much God loves all that He has created.
I sincerely thank you for being such a Living Story of Christmas. Thank you for all your love and life that has enabled us to love in return, especially the needy, the poor and the care of the sick and the elderly. Your generosity has made us sensitive to the suffering caused for so many people in the tea gardens by the poverty during the last two years of the pandemic.
One of the activities undertaken during this year was the free vaccination drive extended to the villages and tea gardens where people were not able to access vaccines to protect themselves from Covid-19. So far we have been able to offer this service to more than 3,500 people with the contributions received from people of goodwill. These vaccines were administered particularly to a targeted group, namely the poor from tea gardens in the hills and the plains irrespective of caste and creed. Besides this activity, two safe homes were established to meet the needs of those who did not have space at home to be quarantined. Thanks to the Government for making available the services of their doctors and nurses in this venture. Apart from these safe homes, the Province men reached out to many villages, tea gardens and urban poor in the hills and the plains, with distribution of ration, medicines and other necessary things. A number of awareness programs were organized advocating preventive measures through our institutions. The timely help extended by the Province has indeed restricted the spread of the disease and saved many lives.
Two of our educational institutions that suffered the most during the pandemic were St Vincent’s Higher Secondary School in Hatighisa and Loyola High school in Uttar Salbari. Both the schools faced a financial crunch on account of parents not paying the fees on time. Collection of fees becomes very difficult when there are no in-person classes. In spite of this we ensured that none of the staff members went unpaid of their salaries. It was very consoling to note that one of the donors, seeing the difficulties faced by St Vincent’s High School, Hatighisa, committed to take care of the salaries for two months when there was a surge in Covid-19 cases during the year. In the case of Loyola High School, Uttar Salbari, the Hayden Hall Institute took care of the salaries for a couple of months and the province too helped out. This way God has been good to us as and when we were faced with difficulties. God still loves the world.
Unfortunately students in rural areas are deprived of the newest devices and levels of accessibility to online content that the urban students enjoy. A very small percentage of students in villages or tea gardens possess smartphones or laptops. A family that depends on the meager earning of just a member of the family cannot think of purchasing such gadgets for their children. Hence, we have made efforts to conduct physical classes in smaller groups in different villages and tea gardens to ensure that they do not drop out of the school or lag behind their studies. Thanks to our dedicated teachers for their availability and love for students from economically poor families.
In spite of the pandemic, we have been able to improve the infrastructure of a number of mission centres in the province. Jesu Ashram, a Centre for the sick and destitute, has completed putting up a truss roof over the TB Ward in order to prevent any further damage to the terrace and the building. Moreover, an old dilapidated one storey building used for the accommodation of nursing staff, kitchen and other facilities, has been knocked down and construction work has begun for a new block for General and Socio-Sanitary Services for Jesu Ashram.
In the field of education, we resumed the construction work to complete the Loyola Higher Secondary Block with toilets and the boundary wall in Uttar Salbari. North Bengal St Xavier’s College has been able to complete the second block for additional classrooms. The Hatighisa mission has a new face with all the infrastructural development at the school and parish level. The Primary School is blessed today with drinking water facilities and new toilets. Jisu Niketan School is blessed with a beautiful ceiling, ceiling fans, furniture for staff and students and better midday meal facilities. To improve the teaching and learning techniques, we have been able to install LCD projectors and minimum 20 computers in each of the institutions.
All this was possible because of your generosity. Your commitment has enabled us not only to undertake the above stated works but also to walk with the poor in different ways. I don’t know how to thank you for all that you’ve been to us but this short note of mine comes to acknowledge that we have been blessed with your love and support. You have helped us to see the face of Christ in the poor and enabled us to serve them with love and generosity. As God gifted us God’s-self in the form of the baby Jesus, we gift to the world the light of Christ, the love of Christ and the hope for a peaceful heart as we tend the vineyard that is our lives and the lives of our family and community.
On this Feast of Christmas, as we remember the birth of Jesus who came into the world and changed it forever, may we find peace in our hearts and hope for a better world. I wish each and every one of you a blessed Christmas and a new year filled with a deepening sense of the presence of God in your lives.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Fr John Wilfred Lobo, SJ
Darjeeling Jesuit Province