Sisters priest has work to do in India
Last updated 7/26/2022 at Noon
Fr. Sibi Poulose, priest at St. Edward the Martyr Catholic Church in Sisters, told The Nugget, “I don’t usually talk about myself.”
The good Father much prefers to talk about the work his “Boss” has given him to do. For a man of only 41 years, he has accomplished much for God, and, in another 18 months, he will be returning to northern India to continue the work by establishing a behavioral health mission dedicated to offering housing, support, and services for residents dealing with addiction and mental health issues.
Fr. Sibi has made sure he is ready when a situation to be of help to others presents itself. After graduating from high school at age 16 in the far southern tip of India, he left home with 17 other boys and a priest to travel by train 2,500 miles north to a seminary mission in the lower Himalayan region of India. Prior to that trip, he had never been more than 20 miles from home.
The challenges are many where few are Christians, making priests and nuns targets for beatings, imprisonment, and even death. They don’t speak Fr. Sibi’s first language, Malayalam. He now speaks three languages: Malayalam, Hindi, and English. July and August are the monsoon season and in 2013 a violent cloudburst killed 60,000 people.
After one year at the seminary, only nine of the original young men who traveled north with Sibi were still there. He is one of five who were eventually ordained as priests after 12 years. Three of them are in India, one is in Rome working on his doctorate in canon law, and Fr. Sibi is in Sisters.
He came to the U.S. for five years, arriving in Bend July 7, 2018, and spent his first four months as an associate priest at St. Francis parish. He came to Bend because of some connections between bishops. He came to Sisters as the parish priest at the end of 2018.
Fr. Sibi explained that, because there is a shortage of priests in the U.S., priests from other countries are encouraged to come to the States. He has been a priest for 13 years, although he freely admits that in his younger years he “was not priest material.” He was into sports and dancing, thinking he would become an engineer.
Prior to leaving India, Sibi attended college for four years in New Delhi, a northern city of 35 million people, where he received a degree in clinical psychology. While in Sisters, he has been working on an online doctorate degree in behavioral health administration so when he returns to India, he will be prepared to establish the mission, serving addicts and mental health clients in addition to serving in the other missions there. He was originally a part of Premdham – House of Love.
The mission began with just a small group of children and has grown to currently care for 95 people who are severely enough impacted by mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and other afflictions that they are not trainable for employment but can assist in ways around the mission. There are 70 who are bed-ridden and are helped by the others. Altogether there are about 200 boys.
“They make their own world,” Fr. Sibi explained.
Most who come to the mission have no one to look after them, some having become orphans when left in bus stations. Many of the health conditions with which they live are due to no maternal prenatal care, malnutrition, contaminated water, and genetic abnormalities.
The priests and nuns are responsible for four missionary centers serving orphans, the destitute, and differently abled. There are schools and medical dispensaries run by 160 nuns, and 75 priests are responsible for religious education and evangelization.
The overall responsibilities of all the missions are evangelism, education, social development, pastoral care, health care, and care for the destitute. Nuns travel to remote villages, where they teach personal hygiene and cleanliness. The children in those villages don’t go to school, as they tend the animals during the day. The nuns hold informal education sessions in the evening.
Three of the missions are located on the northern plains. Premdham Ashram Najibabad, established in 2009, has about 200 underprivileged boys who have been abandoned and rejected. Ashadeep – Lamp of Hope – was established in 2008. Palana Bhavan houses about 110 girls.
Located up in the mountains at 10,000 feet is Maria Ashram, Mother Mary, home to 25-30 girls who are accustomed to living in the high altitude. Fr. Sibi mentioned one young girl who had no arms but was able to carry a handled bucket with her teeth. Many of the girls are blind and/or mentally retarded. The nuns keep them safe and teach them knitting and stitchery.
Electricity used to be available in the missions for only several hours every 24, sometimes in the middle of the night. That is when they would be able to pump their water. Power is more readily available now and they do have access to the Internet, but electricity may only be available for 15-16 hours a day or night.
Fr. Sibi explained that addiction is a big problem in India, and it impacts entire family units. The Indian social system is organized around the family and marriages are arranged. If a family has a son who is an addict/alcoholic, his sister won’t be able to get married, because no boy’s family wants that association.
Cheap alcohol is readily available and the poppies from Afghanistan are close by. There are few, if any, recovery programs available to the general public. Having seen the price extracted by addiction, Fr. Sibi is committed to establishing an addiction/mental health facility when he returns to India.
“What provides meaning for me is my being useful to people in need,” Fr. Sibi said, as he explained why his work is meaningful. “I give what I can. It is all his (God’s) work. I just bloom where I’m planted.”
When talking about his life and plans to return to India, he says, “I can’t take root anywhere,” so he can go where he is called. “I do what I’ve been asked.”
Fr. Sibi grew up in a large Catholic parish in southern India and served as an altar boy in his church because he could read and speak well. A young man from his town named Peter had gone to a seminary mission in the north and came home to be ordained. Sibi was in the 10th grade and was impressed with Fr. Peter. Nine months after returning to the north, word was received that Peter was killed. There were rumors that he had been beaten, imprisoned, and killed. After that, and the death of a good friend, Sibi felt called to the priesthood and to serve in northern India.
“Sisters is the best place I’ve ever lived. I like the calm and quiet and the people are so friendly,” Fr. Sibi said of his temporary home. He comes from a city of 50,000 with a two-square-mile parish. The area is 100 percent Catholic, with 2,000 residents coming to mass in the church at the center of town. There were 1,200 children in the Christian education program when Sibi was in the seventh and eighth grades.
The population of India is 1.4 billion. Hindus make up 80 percent of the population with 1.1 billion. Muslims account for 13 percent or 213 million. Christians represent 3 percent, including 20 million Catholics who are 1.6 percent of the population.
When asked what the people of Sisters could do to be of assistance to the northern missionaries in India, Fr. Sibi replied, “Pray for improving conditions. And be grateful for what we have.”
He said everything is run by volunteers in his missions and immediate needs are often unexpectedly met. He told the story of having nothing to serve for breakfast, but someone said, “Boil water.” Not long after, a volunteer showed up with rice and lentils and the water was all ready to cook breakfast.
Fr. Sibi has enjoyed his time in Sisters, exploring the area and visiting addiction and mental health facilities. But, he admits, “I need to be there [India] more, where I am needed.”