Persecuted Catholics Find Safety in New York

Posted on January 31, 2018 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

State of a Family: State of the Union

Abandoned as an infant and raised in a Mother Theresa convent in Kerala, India, Sheehan Fernandez, 40, along with her husband, Anthony Fernandez, 45, a writer for a Catholic magazine in India, counted  among the one-percent of Christians living in predominantly Hindu India.  But as zealotry tramples the globe, the fundamentalist Hindu nationalist organization RSS, short for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, exploded in violence, spewing their venom on families like the Fernandez. 

Nationalists chased down Mr. Fernandez on November 3, 2012, breaking his right leg and severing his right finger.  They broke and permanently damaged Mrs. Fernandez’ spine.  And they so severely attacked their daughter, Aiswarya, age 11 at the time, that now, five years later, she remains partially paralyzed. 

One in a Million

Their small family represents just three of the approximately 12,000 Christians these nationalists murdered, detained, harassed, raped or assaulted during each of the past five years; just three of the nearly one million immigrants who leave their homelands to build new lives in the United States each year. These monumental numbers can lead to sweeping generalizations. So now, as Congress considers the deep legal immigration cuts President Trump proposed in his State of the Union address this week, let’s zoom in on the story of just one family, that of Mr. and Mrs. Fernandez and their daughter, Aiswarya.

Descent from Freedom to Fear

“Our life was very good there before; we both worked and our daughter studied at an international school,” Mr. Fernandez says.  “But then we could not work, could not walk freely because we were in constant danger of attacks.”

The family hid out, ultimately finding sanctuary in a Missionaries of Charity Catholic convent.  Nuns there were finally able to help the family escape to safety in the United States three days after Christmas 2016. 

Catholic Connections

These Indian nuns connected the Fernandez family to nuns in New York City and, in turn, to Catholic Charities NY for help. 

Catholic Charities is helping them apply for legal asylum while providing them with food, employment search assistance and support.  The organization also bought a laptop computer for Aiswarya, now 16, who, despite paralysis, cultural challenges and poverty, scores straight A’s in every subject.

A Lucky Year

Despite challenges they now face in their new nation, Mr. and Mrs. Fernandez say this past year, 2017,  marks a lucky year for them.  The couple met seventeen years ago –and later married on the 17th of the month of May -- at an Indian archbishop’s home where Mr. Fernandez worked as a reporter for Deepika Daily, a Catholic magazine, and Mrs. Fernandez worked as a receptionist. 

With help from Catholic Charities, the family is rebuilding their life.  Mr. and Mrs. Fernandez each applied for positions stocking shelves at Costco as soon as they received their U.S. work permits.  While far inferior to positions they once held in India, the jobs, if they get them, represent the family’s first step on the rung towards upward mobility.   

“I have plenty of problems but always say ‘don’t worry about the present situation; it will change,” Mr. Fernandez says. “It’s like a shoe; one side is down but the other always looks towards the sky.”


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