Sep 2, 2009
“Social justice and justice for the poor” - the phrase often reminds us of politicians who very often mouth platitudes to placate gullible voters during elections. There are however, instances where sufferings due to social injustice have spurred people to dedicate their lives for the betterment of the people and help them rebuild their lives by leading a life of dignity and respect. It was the sufferings, the humiliation and injustice that his family and he had faced that catapulted Felix Roche, SVD, to become a priest and fight from within the system.
Fr Felix firmly believes in the dictum of “Service to humanity is service to god” and goes about his mission of carrying out service to humanity through the organization Jana Chaithanya Yuva Sangham (JCYM), a well known name to many people across Andhra Pradesh, set up in 1990. JCYM has taken up the noble task of enlightening the poor and the oppressed in the form of folk songs, folk dances, skits, dramas and plays with a team of dedicated artistes under the vision and guidance of Fr Roche.
A catholic priest means one usually conjures up image of a church, Sunday mass and other services in the church and a rather mundane life in the parish. But one can never think of a priest donning the role of an ordinary man and going about putting up dance and songs programme with his troupe much to the consternation of those who do not consider it a priestly duty in the true sense of the term. Fr Felix Roche does just this as he feels he can serve god by doing good to the people around him. The mobile team of JCYM which tours around Andhra and the neighboring states might not put up a programme of high caliber or of good technical quality. But if we go by the term ‘medium is the message’, his programmes which may look funny and not very attractive at times, convey the message in no uncertain terms to the downtrodden and the oppressed. For the last two decades JCYS has been creating awareness and motivating people to come out of the shackles and gain control over their lives. As the founder and director of the JCYM Fr Felix is a contented man having fulfilled his long cherished desire of reaching out to the poorer sections of the society.
Fight against Injustice
Born in Fajir, a small village near Konaje, Mangalore, Fr Felix Roche is the 5th of the 13 children of Mr Anthony Roche and Nathalia. Those were the hard days and the family had to face lot of hardships due to poverty. But the worst was the suffering the family had to face in the hands of his own parish which made a young Felix wonder whether he could do something for the weak and the helpless and the thought of social justice just got embedded in his mind. “I realized that not only the politicians were cheating the people but also the religious priests by not doing their duties according to their vows. This made me think as a humanist rather than just a religious priest” says Fr Felix.
With the seed of social justice sown in mind in early childhood Felix Roche decided to become a priest and joined the SVD seminary at Kirem class 8th. “There is no greater treasure than knowledge, were the golden words of my father which resonated in my mind throughout my early life”, says Fr Felix recalling his father who had tremendous influence on his life since childhood. Keeping with this aim of providing social service Fr Roche did his MSW from Ranchi University to equip him with the task ahead. He chose the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh for carrying out his mission.
Hurdles came his way when he was forced to seek ordination from Mumbai Province, which once again pricked his heart due to the injustice meted out to him for no fault of his. Instead of getting disheartened it spurred him further to direct his energies to work for empowering the people at the lower ladder of the society. He says “being denied ordination in my hometown was a set back but that did not dishearten me. I faced the challenge and that has helped me making me stronger and more pragmatic minded” he contends recalling the tough time he had in organizing the ordination outside his hometown. “I always felt that whenever I became weak god helped me to become strong and used me for his service by showing me the right path”, he reasons. After his ordination in 1982 Fr Roche assumed charge as a parish priest of Veeravally Parish in Nalgonda district of Andra Pradesh. For the last 28 years he has been working in Andhra Pradesh continuously in his quest of providing social justice.
Necessity as we all know is the mother of all inventions and Jana Chaithnya was born to give vent to the long felt deep rooted feeling of justice to the weaker sections. He contends “social evils like corruption, dowry, drug addiction, bride burning, caste system, rape, alcoholism, superstitions and many other evils are common among the people even today. These evils are unique to our own country and require unique initiatives and modes to fight them. JCYS was established to fight against such blind practices prevalent in Andhra Pradesh”.
Reaching out to the needy
Ever since the organization has been in the forefront performing street plays, folk dances, folk songs etc., to create awareness among the people to bring about a change in their lives. These plays strike a deep chord among these people resulting in a change in their mindset. The overwhelming response they get to their performances amply proves this. The 10 member troupe of JCYS along with Fr Roche tours all over Andhra Pradesh in a mobile van camping in different places for weeks together to stage programmes. It goes to the credit of JCYS that the public who witness their programme willingly contribute whatever little they can. The organization survives on donations from public and NGO’s apart from the financial support provided by SVD society. “Their contribution, however small it may be is a vindication that we have been able to touch their heart and soul” Fr Roche opines.
The troupe members are paid a monthly salary and are like any other professional artistes. Elaborating further on JCYS Fr. Felix says, “The seed stages were not without hurdles. We started off presenting the shows voluntarily. After seeing the progress we made, the SVD society gave us an old jeep and some funds. With this help we toured across the state and staged our plays. With time we gained recognition and today we have our own centre in ‘Bhakti Yoga’. Our plays go on for about 3 hours and have a touch of humour, emotion and dance to keep the audience enthralled. Sometimes we enact plays everyday. Our troupe is multi religious in the sense that its members belong to different religions and are not restricted to one particular religion. The plays are based on about 115 relevant themes. HIV AIDS has been our major theme for the past 5 years now”.
Satisfaction – the greatest gift
Fr. Felix’s plays are aimed at the labour class and people from the lowest strata of society who fall easy prey to evil practices. Another feather in Fr. Felix’s cap is his path breaking work in establishing SHG’s or Self Help Groups in the villages of Andhra Pradesh. SHG savings provide loans and matching grants to the poor when needed. Each SHG has animators who act as facilitators and the groups are run and handled by the village folks. JCYS also provides intensive training programmes for NGOs in this task.
The pioneering work of Fr Felix through JCYS might have fetched him many awards and recognition including the national SIGNIS Award “for the best person of communication on Evangelization in 2007. But his greatest reward would probably be the feeling of satisfaction and achievement of having able to play a miniscule role in changing the lives of the people. The satisfaction of engineering a social change in our materialistic society and the achievement of the mission he has been serving cannot be measured. “The contentment of doing something for the society is to be felt from within. My parents are no more but their ideals and their good wishes will always guide me to thread the path of truth and righteousness. I have one more brother who is also a SVD priest and is in Mexico and we have been working in our own ways according to our convictions”, he says with satisfaction writ large on his face.
Contact Fr Felix Roch:
Tel : 0091 - 09440128860