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Despite the gap in generation, education and approach, Mr. Muthanattu expresses goals not unlike those of his parents. “Although I am an engineer, my dream is to eventually farm my land here because it brings me such happiness. The natural beauty and the climate here is very precious.”

Indeed, the two parishes Father Puthenpurayil serves are couched in a natural landscape so sublime it is easy to forget the hardship and challenges confronted within.

“If we want people to stay here, and if we want those who stay to have an easier life, then we have to give them better facilities,” says Father Puthenpurayil. “The main problem here is that there is no good hospital nearby and it is difficult for families to access education for their children after primary school. These are concerns that were less present when these people first settled here.”

However, in a relatively impoverished eparchy, the power to bring such change is limited. While the residents of St. Thomas and St. Bernadette parishes await further infrastructure developments in their state and region, Father Puthenpurayil does all he can to initiate efforts that can improve both the local infrastructure and their economic situations.

Back in St. Thomas parish, a line of women pass through the brush carrying large rocks balanced on small clumps of fabric on their heads. Echoes of metal impacting stone ring through the air and mix with the chatter and laughter of the workers.

Numbering some 20 people, this group of locals participates in a state public infrastructure program called Kuddumbasree, which is geared toward empowering women and relieving poverty. The current project is to build a terrace wall that will protect the back of one of the parish’s houses from landslides during the rainy season. Father Puthenpurayil had played a key role in drawing the program’s resources to this area.

Deeper in the forest, a man splits rocks; women form a relay to haul them to the house, where a mixed group lays them carefully, slowly giving form to the retaining wall. The workmanship is impeccable. As the sun begins to fade, their laughter and conversation rings through the greenery.

Since their settlement some 60 years ago, these two parishes have told a story of struggle, but also of continual, unabated improvement.

For the people of Sts. Thomas and Bernadette, an ethos of hard work and self-improvement is deeply ingrained, says Father Puthenpurayil. He merely offers guidance to that admirable character on its spiritual path.

“My priority is to give Jesus to these people,” he says. “Jesus Christ, who came to the world to redeem the human race.”

Another day has nearly ended for Father Puthenpurayil’s two parishes. As usual, Joy Mundanatt, 55, can be found up on the plateau, in the yard of St. Thomas Church, slowly and rhythmically raking up nuts that have fallen from the surrounding trees.

As twilight gives way to night, figures of workers can still be seen throughout the bush planting, cutting, tying, breaking — toiling right up to the last, until their eyes can see no more.

Father Puthenpurayil likewise returns home to rest.

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