20 Sunday A - Canaanite Woman


From Fr. Jude Botelho:

Gentlemen and Gentile Woman
A gentleman was boasting about the superiority of Catholicism and the holiness of his priests to a Hindu and Muslim friend. Debating at the crossroads they spied a sadhu going into a brothel. “Saw that?” sneered the Catholic. “Our priests won’t be seen there!” Minutes later, a Mullah covered his face with his shawl and entered the brothel too. The Catholic remarked, “Ah, ha, Mullahs are no better than sadhus!” Just then the parish priest also slyly entered the brothel. The Catholic sighed sanctimoniously, “I wonder which of those girls is sick and in need of sacraments!” Strangely, ‘we’ are always holier than ‘they’ just as Pharisees in Jesus’ time claimed superiority over gentiles.
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’
Run for your life
There is an Aesop fable which tells the story of a rabbit and a hunting dog. One day when the dog was out hunting he flushed a rabbit from the thicket and gave chase. The frightened rabbit ran its heart out and eventually escaped. As the dog headed home it passed a farmer who taunted him saying, “You are a fine hunter. Aren’t you ashamed to let a rabbit one-tenth of your size outrun you and get away?” The dog answered, “Ah, but sir, I was only running for my supper, the rabbit was running for his love!” This rabbit was running faster than the fastest man in the world! In today’s gospel we hear a dialogue between Jesus and a Canaanite woman. The woman’s single-mindedness for her daughter’s healing is rewarded. It reminds us of the words of Dwight Eisenhower: “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it is the size of the fight in the dog.” Run for your life and you will win the race.
John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’

Let go and …
As he lay on his hospital bed in Melbourne, an Australian Marist Brother told his gathered friends the story of his spirituality. It came from watching trapeze artists performing in a circus a few years ago. Trapeze artists are those who perform in a circus with swings. It is an air borne performance. While talking to one of the artist, he explained, “As a flyer I must have complete trust in my catcher, he explained. He has to be there for me with split–second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.” The artist explained that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When the artist flies, he has simply to stretch out his arms and hands and wait for him to catch him and pull him safely over the apron behind the catcher. The flyer should actually do nothing. The worse the flyer can do is to catch the catcher. The flyer is not supposed to catch the catcher. If the flyer grabbed the catcher’s wrists, he might break them, or the catcher might break the flyer’s wrists, and that would be the end of them both. A flyer has to fly and the catcher has to catch, and the flyer has to trust with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.” This is the trust we should have in Jesus and the woman in today’s story demonstrated such a faith.
Augustine K. in ‘The Sunday Liturgy’

No giving up
Once during a particularly severe winter in the Arctic, all but two people in a certain camp died of starvation. The two survivors were an Eskimo woman and her baby. The woman began a desperate search for some means of obtaining food. Eventually she found a small fishhook. It was a simple matter to rig a line, but she had no bait, and no hope of getting bait. Without a moment’s hesitation she took a knife and cut a piece of flesh from her thigh. Using this as bait she caught a fish. She fed her child and herself, saving the fish gut for bait. She lived on fish until spring when she walked out of the camp and found some other people. It was no coincidence that the only adult to survive in that camp was a mother. What kept that mother alive was her concern for her child. There seems to be no limit to what a mother will go through for the sake of her child. A mother does not give up easily.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Homilies’

The look of acceptance
When I see a beggar in the street or in the Metro, I tend to put my hand into my pocket and give him the first coin –big or small –that I find there. As I give it to him, I look into his eyes and say a few words to him. As our eyes meet, there seems to be a moment of communion and mutual understanding between us that brings me peace. This simple look can give him back a little confidence in himself. Maybe it can give me confidence in myself too. “Every man who loses confidence in himself, who has fallen into the world of alcohol or drugs, who has failed in family life or relationships or work, needs someone who looks at him as a human being with tenderness and trust. And it is this moment of communion that enables him, little by little, to rebuild his confidence”
Jean Vanier, Founder of L’Arche Community


From Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 

1.       “Are you waiting to speak to one of us?”  

Here are a couple of stories about Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, demonstrating how she valued each human being as a child of God and hence as important. A reporter came to interview her at her office on 4th Street in Manhattan. He could see her talking to a man who was either drunk or mentally ill. Time passed and the reporter grew impatient. Dorothy finally appeared and said, “Are you waiting to speak to one of us?” Obviously, Dorothy did not think that she was more important than the person she was talking with. 

On another occasion a woman came in and donated a diamond ring to the Catholic Worker. Her co-workers wondered what Dorothy would do with it. If she asked one of them to take it to a diamond merchant and sell it, it would buy a month’s worth of groceries and other items for a poor family. That afternoon, however, Dorothy gave the diamond ring to an old woman who lived alone and often came to Dorothy for meals. “That ring would have paid her rent for the better part of a year,” someone protested. Dorothy replied that the woman had her dignity. So she could sell it if she liked and spend the money for rent, a trip to the Bahamas, or keep the ring to admire. “Do you suppose,” Dorothy asked, “God created diamonds only for the rich?”  

Dorothy Day was one of the prophets of her day. Her vision allowed her to see all human beings as equal – no one distinguishable from another. She recognized, as Mother Teresa did, the mark of the children of God in everyone in the same way Jesus recognized God’s child in the Canaanite woman, who belonged to a race inimical to the Jews.  

2.      “If Christians have caste differences…”  

M. K. Gandhi in his autobiography tells how, during his days in South Africa as a young Indian lawyer he read the Gospels and saw in the teachings of Jesus the answer to the major problem facing the people of India, the caste system. Seriously considering embracing the Christian faith, Gandhi went to a white-only church one Sunday morning intending to talk to the minister about the idea. When he entered the church, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and told him to go and worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.”(Fr. Munacci) 

3.      On persistence:  

Many years ago in Illinois, a young man with six months schooling to his credit ran for an office in the legislature. As might have been expected he was beaten. Next he entered business but failed in that too, and spent the next seventeen years paying the debts of his worthless partner. He fell in love with a charming lady and became engaged – and she died. He had a nervous breakdown. He ran for congress and was defeated. He then tried to obtain an appointment to the U.S. land office, but didn’t succeed. He became a candidate for the Vice-Presidency and lost. Two years later he was defeated in a race for the senate. He ran for President and finally was elected. That man was Abraham Lincoln. It took Winston Churchill three years to get through the eighth grade, because he couldn’t pass English! Ironically, he was asked many years later to give the commencement address at Oxford University. His now famous speech consisted of only three words: “Never give up!” Today’s gospel episode gives us the same message in a more powerful way. 

4.      Universal fraternity: 

There is a story about a man named Jeremy Cohen, a Texan who, with his family, became host to a rabbi from Moscow one Christmas. To treat the rabbi to a culinary experience unavailable to him in his own country, Cohen took him to his favorite Chinese restaurant. After an enjoyable meal and pleasant conversation, the waiter brought the check and presented each person at the table with a small brass Christmas ornament as a complimentary gift. Everyone laughed when Cohen's father turned the ornament over and read the label “Made in India.” The laughter quickly subsided, however, when everyone saw tears running down the rabbi’s cheeks. Cohen asked the rabbi if he were offended at having been given a gift on a Christian holiday. Smiling, the rabbi shook his head and answered, “No, I was shedding tears of joy to be in such a wonderful country in which a Chinese Buddhist restaurant owner gives a Russian Jew a Christmas gift made by a Hindu in India.” 

5.      The difference between knowing the faith and showing the faith.  

A man who was walking close to a steep cliff lost his footing and plunged over the side. As he was falling he grabbed the branch of a tree that was sticking out about half-way down the cliff. He managed to hang onto a weak limb with both hands. He looked up and he saw that the cliff was almost perfectly straight and that he was a long way from the top. He looked down and it was a long, long way down to the rocky bottom. At this point the man decided that it was time to pray. He didn’t pray a long, wordy prayer. He simply yelled out, "God, if you’re there, help me!" About that time he heard a deep voice coming from high up above that said, "I’m here my son, have no fear." The man was a little startled at first by God’s voice, but he pleaded, "Can you help me? Can you help me?" God replied, "Yes, I can my son, but you have to have faith. Do you trust Me?" The man answered, "Yes Lord, I trust You." God said, "Do you really trust Me?" The man, straining to hold on replied, "Yes Lord, I really trust You." Then God said, "This is what I want you to do: let go of the limb, trust me and everything will be all right." The man looked down at the rocks below, then he looked up at the steep cliff above him and yelled, "Is there anybody else up there who can help me?" 

Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali – Indian Poet 

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action--
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.


1. Crossing Barriers
2. Refusing to Be Put Off
3. Going in Faith and Humility

What would you think if I told you that on your tombstone would be inscribed a four-word epitaph? Well, you might respond, it would depend on who would write this epitaph--an enemy or a loved one. It might also depend, you might say, on how well this person knew and understood you. If a newspaper critic wrote of a concert pianist the four words: "He was a failure," you could always say: That was his opinion. But if one of the world's great musicians wrote, "He was a genius," then you are apt to take the remark more seriously.

There was a character in the Gospel who Jesus once described with four immortal words: Great is your faith. She was a Canaanite woman who came from the country to the north of Palestine, a country hostile to the Jews. She was presumably married, she had at least one child; but that's all we know about her. We don't know whether she was a good woman or a bad woman. We don't know her name. All we know of her is that in this single encounter with Jesus he spoke to her this four-word epitaph: Great is your faith.

Only four words but they are enough to make her immortal. We can trust these words as being true because the expert on faith spoke them. Jesus searched for faith, as a gem collector would fine jewels. He did not always find it in his disciples. On no occasion that we know did he ever say of Peter, James, and John: Great is your faith. More often the words he spoke to them: You of little faith. On only one other occasion did Jesus praise a person for their faith. Interestingly, that was a Roman soldier stationed in Capernaum.

We regard this Canaanite woman with more than just an academic interest. She awakens in us a feeling of admiration, perhaps even envy, because she stands where most of us would like to stand... 
"Trending" as in "what's trending?" is a social networking term used to describe what latest "hot new thing" is gaining popularity online and in our TGIF (Twitter, Google, Instagram, Facebook) culture. If you know what is "trending" then supposedly you've got your finger, or at least your texting finger, on the pulse of "what's happening" in the world today. 

What have you heard is trending? Anyone?...This would be a great time for you to enter the congregational space and interact with your people about what "trends" they're tracking...You may want to prime the pump and ask some of your youth what music is trending...what's their favorite musician, and then ask if that musician is "cool" or not cool? . . .  

At the end of the interaction you might want to mention that you've heard that the country that's trending most right now is South Korea, that in Asia and many other places, but not yet in the US, South Korea and everything Korean is hip (see Euny Hong's The Birth of Korean Cool (2014). Although you might want to mention that "fanbots" may be a Korean idea that will never catch on. "Fanbots" are robot fans that you can rent if you can't attend a baseball or soccer game. They attend for you, sit in a special section for robots, and they can cheer, chant and even perform a wave, whatever you instruct them to do as you watch the game through their eyes. 

Here's something ironic about all this trendiness. The problem is that closely following and participating in what is "trending" guarantees that you are NOT a "trend-setter." Instead you are jumping on the "trending" bandwagon, letting the collective online crowd determine what you think is worth your time and attention. To be perennially "trending" is like being forever trying to join that most popular "clique" in junior high and high school. As soon as you "join in" it's no longer the coolest, latest thing. Sometimes the most relevant is not the most recent but the most ancient... 
Breaking down Barriers

 C.S. Lewis once wrote an essay entitled The Inner Ring. He says in the article that in any playground or office or church there are little groups or rings of people who are on the "inside". And those who aren't: those who don't get picked at playtime, those who stand on their own in the lunchroom. Lewis says that the existence of such rings is not necessarily bad. We're finite beings, and we can only have deeply intimate friendships with a limited number of people. But he says that the desire to gain status or self-worth by being part of an "inner ring" is deeply destructive. It causes you to constantly compare yourself with others, to feel anguish when you're left out, and deeper anguish when someone close to you gets let in. Worst of all, once you're in, you want to keep others out, because it's the exclusive nature of the group that makes you feel good. 

Jesus' disciples wrestled often with that desire to be part of the inner ring. They argued over who should have the seats closest to Jesus. They asked Jesus to bring down fire on pagan villages. They rebuked little children for coming in too close and wasting Jesus' time. Jesus must have often shaken his head because he was constantly teaching about who was in and who was out, about God's desire to bring into the inner ring of his love anyone who will come. One of the most intriguing stories about status is this one in Matthew 15:21-28.

John Tucker, Breaking Down Barriers: Inclusion
 A Mother's Faith

 Augustine's mother, Monica, was a fervent believer who prayed constantly for her son's salvation. She devoted her whole life to praying for Augustine's conversion. At one point, when Augustine was becoming devoted to the Manichaean philosophy, Monica begged a holy man to speak to Augustine, and show him why their beliefs were not true. The holy man refused because Augustine was known to have a great intellect, and would likely try to savage the holy man's arguments. The holy man assured Monica that he, too, had once been a Manichaean, and that Augustine was too smart to deceive himself much longer. At this, Monica began to cry. The holy man sent her away, saying, "Go, go! Leave me alone. Live on as you are living. It is not possible that the son of such tears should be lost."

 The holy man was right. After many years and a fierce inner struggle, Augustine was touched by a revelation in Scripture, and became a Christian. When Monica learned of her son's salvation, she remarked that she had nothing left to live for, for the greatest desire of her heart had been fulfilled. Nine days later, Monica died. And the son she had spent her life praying for, went on to affect the whole world.

Monica never quit asking. "Live on as you are living," said the holy man. "It is not possible that the son of such tears should be lost." You are concerned about someone you love? Keep on asking God for help. Don't let your tears quench the flame of your faith in God. It may seem like God is ignoring you, but I assure you that is not the case. Don't give up. Keep asking. And keep on trusting. 

King Duncan, When You Need Help, adapted from Ruth Bell Graham, Prodigals and Those Who Love Them.
Learning to Be Like Christ

A householder keeps faith, keeps care, of all those in his household. This is what the Canaanite woman learns from Jesus' example. And this is what she reveals back to him.
In other words, Jesus "learns" to hear his own words through the ears of her faith. That's why ultimately Jesus declares, "Woman, great is your faith" - not, "You are very clever."

This is how philosopher Dallas Willard puts it, as he defines exactly what is a disciple: "One of those who have trusted Jesus with their whole life, so far as they understand it. Because they've done so, they want to learn everything he has to teach them about life in the kingdom of God now and forever, and they're constantly with him to learn this. Disciples of Jesus are those learning to be like him" (Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ, 241).

 Leonard Sweet, Collected Sermons,
 Don't Jump to Conclusions

A family of five was enjoying their day at the beach. The children were playing in the ocean and making sand castles when in the distance a little old lady appeared. Her gray hair was blowing in the wind and her clothes were dirty and ragged. She was muttering something to herself as she picked up things from the beach and put them into a bag. The parents called the children to their side and told them to stay away from the old lady. As she passed by, bending down every now and then to pick something up, she smiled at the family. But her greeting wasn't returned.

 Couple weeks later this family learned that little old lady was a retired school teacher who'd made it her lifelong crusade to pick up bits of glass from the beach so children wouldn't cut their feet. And as she picked up the broken glass, she prayed for the people who had dropped it, even though she didn't know who they were.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, gave his life on the cross so that we might know the love, forgiveness and acceptance of our God. Jesus died for each of us personally. We can't look at another human being without thinking to ourselves, Jesus died for them, too. We do a disservice when we jump to conclusions about people because of how they look, where they live or the type of work that they do. We are all equal Jesus' eyes.

Billy D. Strayhorn, From the Pulpit, CSS Publishing Company
 Thinking of Nothing Else: Concentration

The famous one-time Catholic monk, Martin Luther, was legendary not just for nailing a piece of paper to the door of his home church citing 95 things that needed to be changed about it. He wrote and lectured extensively to his students at the university as well. Some of his students were very good learners, and others were not so good. But a few of his students realized that some of the most valuable instruction that Luther gave was not in the classroom, but was in the dining hall over a meal and a few drinks. His students began taking notes on what Luther told them in that relaxed atmosphere, and they eventually published these notes in what was known as Martin Luther's Table Talks.

One such example of the profound insight and truth Luther gave his students happened one day after class in the dining hall and they were all sitting around eating their meal and talking on the subject of prayer. A student of Luther's by the name of Viet Dietrich preserved Luther's words for us:

"When Luther's puppy, Tölpel, happened to be at the table, looked for a morsel from his master, and watched with open mouth and motionless eyes, Luther said, 'Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. Otherwise, he has no thought, wish, or hope'" (Table Talks, May 18, 1532).

Martin Luther's puppy reminds me of the woman in today's Gospel lesson from Matthew. Although this woman was a Gentile, from the region of Tyre and Sidon (modern day Lebanon), she couldn't think about anything other than Jesus healing her daughter.

 J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L., I Ain't Too Proud to Beg
My Guitar Is Tired

Classical guitar maestro Andres Segovia is adored by his public, especially by the British. They do not let him go easily after a performance. Following two exhausting encores one night in London, Segovia, then 92, was forced to concede: "I would love to go on playing," he said, "but my guitar is tired."
Jesus knew what it was to be tired. He knew what it was to need a change.

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
 A Strong Woman

 A strong woman works out every day to keep her body in shape, but a woman of strength kneels in prayer to keep her soul in shape.
 A strong woman isn't afraid of anything, but a woman of strength shows her courage in the midst of fear.
 A strong woman won't let anyone get the best of her, but a woman of strength gives the best of her to everyone.
 A strong woman walks sure-footedly, but a woman of strength knows God will catch her when she falls.
 A strong woman wears the look of confidence on her face, but a woman of strength wears grace.
 A strong woman has faith that she is strong enough for the journey, but a woman of strength has faith that in the journey she will become strong.

 Author unknown
One of the most respected personalities in the entertainment world today is a man named Quincy Jones. Performer, composer, promoter, producer, director, arranger--Qunicy Jones is all of these and much, much more. In recent years, he has also become known for his amazing ability to bring together the superstars of the entertainment industry, getting them to blend their talents and work together, share the spotlight and function as a team to produce something that is very special. He can bring together stars such as Diana Ross, Kenney Rogers, Aretha Franklin, Michael Bolton, Gladys Knight, Kenney G., Lionel Ritchie, and many others; he can give them a single phrase there, and combine their artistic skills into a powerful and moving expression of music.

Perhaps Jones is best known for the production of the hit recording "We are the World," which featured the combined talents of many of the top pop singers of our time. Do you know how he did it--how he persuaded those music superstars to come together and work as a team to create that song? Well, he did a very interesting and, evidently, effective thing... 


Brothers and sisters, in today's Gospel we remember the Canaanite woman whom Jesus heard. With her, let us prostrate ourselves before the Lord; let us ask of him forgiveness for our sins; and let us implore him: "Lord, come to our aid!" 

When we do not know how to pray with perseverance, as the Canaanite woman did, forgive us, Lord. 

When we do not know how to pray with humility, as the Canaanite woman did, forgive us, Lord. 

When we do not know how to pray with faith, as the Canaanite woman did, forgive us, Lord. 

May Almighty God who sent his Son Jesus Christ to the lost sheep of the house of Israel have mercy also on us all. May he forgive our sins and bring us to eternal life. 

Or O woman, great is your faith! 

God's salvation is extended to all, no matter what gender, ethnic origin, or religious affiliation. All we need to have is faith. Let us sincerely ask ourselves how well we have lived our life of faith and ask God to give us a deeper and greater faith and pray:

Lord Jesus, you are the Lord, Son of David, who came to save the lost sheep of Israel. Lord, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you graciously extended your mission to include everyone in God's kingdom. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you bring us healing and wholeness. Lord, have mercy. 


Like the Canaanite woman, let us not grow tired of imploring the Lord.

For the Church. May she extend her welcome to all people of goodwill, and become a house of prayer for all nations.
For the country which was the home of Jesus; for the territory of Tyre and Sidon. May the peace of God come upon this land.
For those in authority. May the Lord help them to maintain equity so that justice might reign.
For the lost sheep of the house of Israel. May the Lord, whose call is irrevocable, show them the fullness of his mercy.
For those who are tormented by the devil. May they obtain their deliverance thanks to the intercession of the Church.
For the strangers who live among us. May they find welcome in our community and be happy with us.
For parents who have children in difficulty. May their prayers be answered like the prayer of the Canaanite woman.
For our community gathered together by your love. May our prayer be humble and persevering, like the prayer of the Canaanite woman, so that it may touch the heart of Jesus.

Let us recommend also to the love of the Lord all the other intentions that we carry in the depths of our hearts.

God our Father, we implore you, with the Canaanite woman: "Come to our aid!" Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

In all the readings of today, we encounter and are made aware of the great truth that salvation is for all irrespective of one's caste, creed, nationality or race. The salvation that God our loving father envisages for us his children, is for all, every nation and all ages. This is categorically reiterated by Paul in our first reading, when he tells that "God's gift and his call are irrevocable." Our lives are oriented and ordained toward the redemption in view of realizing and experiencing the "image and likeness" with which we are created. Our re­ceptiveness for God's grace releases us from the compulsion of self‑deception and we gra­ciously share in the divine life, something which we can never effect ourselves.   

In our first reading today, Prophet Isaiah brings home the message to us that all people will be drawn together in worship of God. The prophet's call does not exclude anyone but includes everyone whether one is an Israelite or not. Everyone is invited to join the Lord and encounter him in his or her life.  

In today's Gospel, Mathew presents us a radi­cal, dynamic and persevering example of faith. The Canaanite woman, an outsider, though apparently rejected by Jesus by not heeding to her plea, continues persistently for her cause. She knew to whom she was talking to and what he was capable of realizing for her. The woman trusted in Jesus in the depth of her heart and surrendered herself to his mercy, while keeping up her faith. She let Jesus act and waits in surrender, trust and above all in a persevering faith.  

The Canaanite woman, unlike Peter, begins with faith. She acknowledges who Jesus is ‑ Lord, Son of David ‑ and pays him homage; only then does she pray for help and receives what she asks for her daughter. The surprise and Good news is that whether we begin in doubt and come to belief or begin with great faith, Jesus responds‑his mission that is to bring salvation to all.            

The persistent and uncompromising faith the Canaanite woman had in Jesus teaches a great lesson. In faith, there is always a room for mystery. As we do not know how the seed strikes root, shoots up and bears fruit, we need to patiently wait, letting God act in his time, on his own terms and conditions. Faith pre­supposes perfect trust and surrender and this is what the woman does in her life. The willing­ness to surrender to God holds the promise to connect us with our true selves and with the reality of God in our lives and in the world. 

The woman surrenders herself to the Lord that enables her to enter and immerse into the deep­est realm of life itself. This sense of self‑sur­render helps the woman to believe that Jesus is both willing and able to heal her daughter, no matter whether he regards her or not. By this incident, Jesus candidly brings home the pow­erful and challenging message that by the fact one is possessing the status of a "son" does not presuppose the availability of salvation. The "dogs" are also entitled to be counted among the sheep and are raised to the status of the "Son" and inherit the redemption that Jesus will obtain and make available to all. 

Here is a woman who refused to believe that her pleas were going to the dogs. She deeply believed in the Lord, but it was only through her perseverance that she obtained her request. The Lord is compassionate and merciful even when it seems that he is not. We must be able to endure being ignored, rejected and hurt, for these are the real tests of perseverance. In the face of adversities, we need to stand by that unshakable faith that God will provide in the mysterious ways of his own divine providence. The poet Longfellow wrote of this in Psalm of life: "Let us then be up a doing, With a heart for any fate, Still achieving, still pursu­ing, Learn to labour and to wait".

Diocese helps Kashmiri women stand up for their rights

Village women attending the Catholic Social Service Society program to create awareness about the rights of women at Nagrota village in Jammu and Kashmir state, in this file photo. (Photo by Umar Manzoor Shah)
Darshana Devi, in India's northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, recalls the ordeal of trying to find out why her name disappeared from the records of a government scheme providing monthly pensions to destitute widows.

The 56-year-old, from isolated Dansal village, lost her husband 15 years ago, but her monthly pension of 1,500 rupees (US$23) kept the rice pot boiling. She was never told why she was removed from the beneficiary list in 2014. Repeated attempts to solve the riddle failed, she told

After suffering hardship, Devi came to know about a program run by Jammu-Srinagar Diocese's Catholic Social Service Society under which village women are trained to press for their rights and entitlements. The diocese covers the entire Jammu and Kashmir state.

Devi was told about the Right to Information Act (RTI), a federal law, which helps any Indian access information from government departments and agencies. The law stipulates requests should be responded to within 30 days.

Devi filed an application under the provision. However, she was shocked to learn that even the names of unmarried girls had been included as pension recipients by some corrupt officials.

Following her complaints, officials cancelled the earlier list from which she had been omitted and prepared another one. "My name was there in the new list," Devi said with a smile. "Now I get the monthly pension on time."

The Catholic Social Service Society programme also engages in capacity building for village groups and networking with locally elected bodies.

Father Preful Tigga, assistant director of the society, said an aim was to focus on marginalized women.

Hina Qadir, a research scholar in sociology at the University of Kashmir, said although women form 47 per cent of state's 13 million population, comparatively less had financial independence. She noted that of the state's 3.75 million workforce, just over a million were women.

However, Qadir told that many village women remained unaware of available support options.

Renuka Kumari, a member of the church-run program, felt proud to solve a "crisis" in her village. Last month, local women complained they were being cheated by a dealer at a government-run 'fair price' shop. As a result of representations, the women were given a full quota of wheat.

In another village, action was taken to rectify shortcomings in a program designed to make sure pregnant women, adolescents and children were not malnourished.

News of their success spread to nearby villagers who also succeeded in having grievances addressed.

The society's director, Father Saiju Chacko, said empowerment of women led to social change. "When a woman is empowered, she is aware of her rights and she can assert herself to demand her rights," he said. "She is no more a victim, but becomes a voice for the voiceless."

The priest expressed hope that the day would soon come when village women had collective leadership ensuring greater control of resources, with men as supportive and responsible partners.