Alms and food to destitute distributed at the shrine of St. Lawrence, Attur-Karkala

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Report and Pictures by Dr. Eugene D’Souza, Moodubelle

Karkala, 29 January 2010: In true Lawrencian spirit, alms and food packets were distributed to the destitute at the Shrine of St. Lawrence at Attur-Karkala on 29th January 2010 at 12.15pm after three days of the annual feast of the ‘Saint of Miracles’. The alms giving tradition at the shrine has been going on since the last ten years.

Prior to this practice, the destitute and beggars used to have a free run during the annual feast at Attur due to which most of the pilgrims had to face inconvenience and harassment from the persistent entreaty of these people for alms. Later, in line with the government policy of discouraging begging in public places and to avoid inconvenience to the pilgrims, the Shrine Committee with the help of the police decided to put a stop to begging during the annual feast at Attur. Instead, the pilgrims were asked to deposite their alms meant for the destitute in separate boxes kept for this purpose. The alms collected in these boxes were distributed to the destitute on the day after the end of the three days of annual feast along with packets of cooked food.

According to often quoted incidence in the life of St. Lawrence, following the execution of Pope Sixtus II by the Roman Emperor Valerian, it was the turn of St. Lawrence who was one of the Deacons of the Pope and the administrator of the church property. After the martyrdom of Pope Sixtus, the Prefect of Rome demanded that St. Lawrence turn over the riches of the Church. It is said that St. Lawrence asked for three days to gather together the wealth and quickly distributed as much Church property to the poor as possible, so as to prevent it being seized by the Prefect. On the third day, at the head of a small delegation, St. Lawrence presented himself to the Prefect, and when ordered to give up the treasures of the Church, he presented the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering, and said that these were the true treasures of the Church. One account records him declaring to the Prefect, "The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor." Soon after, St. Lawrence was put to death and he earned the crown of martyrdom.

On Friday, 29th January 2010, the destitute who had been camping outside the church began entering the church compound right from early morning and occupied the space under the pandal as well as shamiana. They began to gather in groups or individually, women with children in tow and bags and baggage on their head. Some were physically challenged while others were elderly and infirm. A number of saffron clad and bearded men claiming to be ascetics could be seen in groups. There were also young children, nomadic tribals and even able bodied young men and women who had come to receive the alms and food packets that would be doled out at prescribed time.

According to a police officer who requested not to be identified, only forty per cent of the people gathered in the church compound can be considered as genuine destitute. Many were pretending to be destitute. Many of these people have been deserted by their own families as they could not live and adjust within their families as responsible members. Many are socially marginalised and indulge in begging to sustain themselves.

By 11.30 am, the police herded the destitues under the pandal and asked them to sit in lines. By that time more than a thousand destitute had gathered in the church compound. At 12.15 pm, the packed food (vegetable pulav) was brought near the main entrance of the church compound so also the packets of alms. There was a mad rush of the people when asked to queue up to receive the food and alms. However, the police and the volunteers managed to maintain discipline and order.

The alms were distributed by Mr. John D’Silva, vice president of the Parish Pastoral Council of the Attur Parish ably assisted by Mr. Paravin and Mr. Roshan Castelino who arranged the distribution of food packets. According to the disability and condition of the person, the destitute were classified into three categories while distributing the alms and were given the alms packets with predetermined amounts. It took nearly one and a half hour to distribute the alms and food packets. Around 1700 destitute received the alms totalling Rs.4, 50,000. The children were denied alms packets as a matter of policy in order to discourage begging among the young children. However, they were given food packets.

The distribution of alms and food packets to the destitute could be considered as the final act of the annual feast of St. Lawrence at his shrine at Attur-Karkala. As I tried to cover the feast, the logistics and finally the distribution of alms and food packets to the destitute, I had a strange experience of witnessing the devotion and fervour of the pilgrims and devotees of St. Lawrence during the feast days, understanding the planning, preparation and the logistic support that has gone into making arrangements for and organising such a grand three days annual feast and on a depressing note seeing hundreds of destitute waiting eagerly in hot sun for some amount of money and food that was being doled out on the penultimate day after the end of the annual feast.

Thus, the curtain has finally come down on one of the most eagerly awaited and well organised annual feasts at attur in the Mangalore Diocese. The year will pass and once again people will make their way to the Shrine of St. Lawrence at Attur to thank for the favours received, to seek additional favours and to see the ‘santamari’ and the destitute will also return the next year to seek the alms and the packets of food as in earlier years.

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Comments on this Article
Victor D almeida, Moodubelle/Bahrain Sun, January-31-2010, 10:24
We never know days of the annual feast of the Saint of Miracles there was a alms giving tradition at the shrine. Only we came to know that through Bellevision. our kind hearted reporter took some nice pictures of those poor people, God bless you.
Vijay Dsouza, Moodubelle Sun, January-31-2010, 4:52
Very informative article, the teachings of St.Lawrence were truely followed.
Naveen Joel, Belle / Kuwait Sat, January-30-2010, 10:35
Very interesting coverage thanks Dr Eugene you’re really doing wonderful job, there is many things came to know through your articles, proud to you with bellevision. Keep up the good work
Thomas, Moodubelle/ Dubai Sat, January-30-2010, 10:17
Very informative reports from Dr. Eugene about Attur Fest.Lots of changes in Attur Fest. Since 15 years i have not been to Fest. This time i got an oppertunity to know about the feast celebrations of all 3 days. More over one more additional inforamation about the distribution of food and alms to the beggers. That too 1700 numbers. It is quite amazing. Thank you bellevision for this wonderful coverage.May patron Saint lawrence shower his blessing you all for your hard work.
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