The dignity of man was the basis for all social activities and humanitarian services initiated by St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara.
Kuriakose Elias Chavara (1805-1871), a spiritual leader and social reformer, is a native of Kerala in India. The Catholic Church raised him to the eminence of a saint on 23rd November 2014 on account of his heroic spiritual life and innovative humanitarian services to empower the downtrodden. The social situations of Kerala during his lifetime were deplorable due to the existence of a caste- oriented and socially unequal society. People belonging to the higher castes enjoyed many privileges while the lower castes were neglected and oppressed. Government jobs and general education were denied to people of the lower castes. They were not allowed even to walk along public roads.
St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara took a keen interest in uplifting the underprivileged classes, the orphans and the poor. He stood as the champion for the cause of women, the downtrodden, sick, poor and dalits. He worked hard to raise the dignity of his fellow beings and provide them better chances to progress in society. The words and deeds of this selfless saint proclaim his great vision. Today, Kerala holds the highest literacy rate in India and people enjoy equal social status. St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara dreamed for such a society and pioneered a movement that continues to reach out to every single individual in the society especially those belonging to the lower rungs of the social stratum.
He represented the first glimmerings of the rise of social consciousness in Kerala before the advent of Sreenarayana Guru or Ayyankali. He was also a predecessor of the Gandhian ideology that service to God is through service of humanity. In fact, his view that God is with the poor is similar to the Dharidranarayan concept of Swami Vivekananda.
St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara used to often say that “the day in which you do not do some help to others will not be counted in the days of your life.”
St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara launched an innovative educational process at various levels ranging from theological education and formation of the clergy to education of the children through schools attached to all parishes. He believed that teaching and learning is a sacred practice that leads to enlightenment. As part of his educational, social and cultural reforms, St. Kuriakose promoted schools attached to churches and provided the backward sections of the society with the opportunity to study with children of the upper class. He also started the publication of prayer books and Christian literature with the help of a wooden printing press, designed on plantain marrow.
He used to say, “Just as without the eye one cannot see the material things in the world, so without knowledge it will be impossible for us to see and understand the reality of world and the eternity of God.”