Attacked by Zealots in India, Catholic Family Finds Safety in NYC

Posted on January 2, 2019 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Learn More about Them Here and in The New York Times

A fractured collarbone. Spinal fractures. Head wounds.

Antony Fernandez, his wife and daughter suffered devastating injuries six years ago after an attack in their home in India, reports John Otis in this New Year’s Day New York Times Neediest Cases article.

Abandoned as an infant in India and raised in a in a convent founded by Mother Theresa, Sheehan Fernandez, 41, along with her husband, Antony Fernandez, 46, a reporter for Deepika Daily, 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, began terrorizing those like the Fernandez family practicing different religions. 

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 it took years of intensive therapy to overcome the partial paralysis caused by the attack.

Their small family represents just three of the approximately 12,000 Christians the nationalists murdered, detained, harassed, raped or assaulted during each of the past five years.  They are also among the number of refugees surging nationwide, providing faces and names to U.S. administration plans to slash by 33-percent the number of refugees permitted entrance to the U.S.

“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 2015. 

The family had spent much of its time doing charitable acts, said Mr. Fernandez, 46, like distributing food, clothing and medicine to the poor and impoverished in their city, Thiruvananthapuram.

“We will give everything to everyone,” he told the New York Times reporter. “There is no discrimination.”

The 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 and support. 

For the last two and a half years, the family has lived in a shelter in the Bronx. They each have work permits and Social Security cards; all three are awaiting a decision on their asylum applications. And they have become parishioners at St. Dominic Church.

Mr. Fernandez works at an IHOP restaurant within biking distance of the shelter. He washes dishes and cleans floors.

“I don’t feel any shame,” he said. “I’m working for my family, and I’m working for Jesus.

The family’s trauma has not prevented them from giving back to others in need. Twice a month, Mr. and Mrs. Fernandez bring items from their personal food pantry rations — specifically extra bread — to Pennsylvania Station in Midtown and distribute it to the many homeless people who congregate there.

“We won’t eat that much,” said Mr. Fernandez. “So if I have $5, two for us and three for others. Every time, I’m thinking like that.”

Read the Fernandez full story in The New York Times

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