A pilgrimage to France

The pilgrimage group at Normandy

The pilgrimage group at Normandy

During the first week of October the Province Development Office hosted a pilgrimage to France that included visits not only to the many the famed historical sites of the country, but to significant sites of the Church and the Priests of the Sacred Heart as well. Fr. Dominic Peluse and Fr. Jim Schroeder, along with Pam Milczarski, planned giving director, led the trip. During their journey Fr. Jim maintained a daily journal, which he shares:

Wednesday, October 1: Left St. Louis in the morning for JFK airport in New York. The heavens were as blue as the legendary robe of Mary, and I was on my way to Lourdes. Good flight. Lots of time in the airport to meet most of the others in our group of 30, including Fr. Dominic and Pam, before our 8:00 p.m. Delta flight to Schipol Airport in Amsterdam.


Thursday, October 2: Tough flight; didn’t sleep. We transferred to a KLM flight to Toulouse, France. Nice plane and lovely flight attendants. Two people had lost luggage, so there was a big run-around in French and English in Toulouse. We took off in a pullman bus but had to return for the lost items. Although everyone was exhausted, it was a beautiful two-hour ride through the French countryside.


Fr. Jim celebrates Mass at Lourdes

We arrived in Lourdes at 5:30 p.m., 12:30 St. Louis time. There were many quaint, one-car-wide streets, and it was very hilly in the Pyrenees. Almost every shop was piled high with religious items. We found our Hotel Chapelle et Parc, a small place of faded glory. There were thousands of Italians about and many women dressed all in white like nun-nurses; they were actually lay women who were volunteers to help the ill. I had a good hotel dinner with five ladies, three from Long Island. Afterward I walked to the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto and there were thousands processing in the night with candles, singing and praying the rosary in six languages, hundreds in wheelchairs or little carriages, old and young, parents with their children, young spouses wheeling a disabled partner, children with elderly parents. It was a parade of human suffering which was heart-breaking and brought me to tears. Then a choir sang the Lourdes song and the Ave Maria, with a soprano soaring above it all; really moving. Although I had not expected to like Lourdes, the amount of faith and hope, and love and care for the ill, was truly inspiring. At the end of the day I fell into bed.


Friday, October 3: What a packed day! After a short night we had breakfast and we were off to the Grotto, just around the corner, for a 9 a.m. Eucharist with our group. Fr. Dominic and I were joined by a Father Festus and his group from Nigeria, Father George, I believe, and a group from Australia, and Fr. Jerry Drummond with his mother and a whole group that could not fly who came from England in a “jumbulance,” a bus with medical equipment and staff.

I was chosen by the three others to have the honor of presiding in the Grotto cave. I was going to preach but suggested that Fr. Jerry do so because he is a regular. It was a wonderful experience. Then we did a walking tour, first of a new, massive underground church for pilgrims, then of Bernadette Soubirous’s home in a mill, then of a home her father owned before becoming unemployed because of an accident. The home is still in the family. We walked across town to Sacred Heart Parish where she was baptized. Then seven of us had lunch outside at a cafe, the Leffe, while others went back for the baths at 1:00 p.m.

We toured the Cachot, the former prison the Soubirous family lived in when they were very poor. It was from there that Bernadette entered the convent in Nanterre; she died there. Fr. Dom, Pam and I went to the Keep, an old fortress overlooking the town, and toured a fascinating museum on the culture of the Pyrenees. We all gathered again at the hotel and I went to see the lower church of Our Lady of the Rosary, then the crypt of the Basilica and the relics of Bernadette, and finally the top Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Finally I visited the spring again, bought some candles and got some water for sick family and friends.

We had dinner at the hotel again and I went back early to join in the candle procession and rosary. I ran into some of the Nigerians and Fr. Festus who were delighted to see me, and also a group from Philadelphia with their two priests. Being part of the procession was not as impressive because I could not experience the full extent of the suffering and hope as I did when observing the whole procession.


Saturday, October 4: Another short night with a 3:30 a.m. wake-up and breakfast at 4:30. We had to make a 6:30 TGV (French speed train) to Paris and were in a near panic trying to get all the bags on before the train left. It was very quiet and there was no sunrise till 7:45. The countryside was like an impressionist painting in the fog and mist. In six hours we reached Paris, Montparnasse station, and had another panic unloading and guarding all the bags. We had a very long walk to the bus, and back for the restrooms. We headed by bus to the Peripherique (beltway), and off to Cabourg, two-and-a half hours north. During the ride I gave a short biography of Father Dehon, our Founder, and explained our spirituality of oblation and reparation, and the daily prayers for each that we included in their travel booklet. Because of travel we did the liturgy of the word of St. Francis of Assisi on the bus. Our beautiful Hotel Mercure was on a lush racetrack. We had a gourmet dinner of salmon in a light tomato cream sauce, wild rice, and a berry charlotte dessert. Everyone was in very good spirits after another full day of travel.


Pilgrims walk toward St. Michael

Pilgrims walk toward St. Michel

Sunday, October 5:   I had a good sleep for the first time and the morning offered a 6:30 a.m. American breakfast with eggs and bacon/sausage.  We left for a 92-mile, over two hour, bus ride to Mont St. Michel, which was visible from miles out. It was a beautiful, sunny day. There is new parking far from the island, with shuttles to the new bridge. The former causeway will be removed soon because it blocks the tides and was reconnecting the island to the mainland. It was an incredible climb up the mountain on a very narrow pedestrian street chocked with shops, restaurants, and hotels.

About half way up, at the little parish church of St. Pierre, many stopped and waited till we returned for Eucharist there. We had a nice tour of the fortress/ former Benedictine monastery which now houses a small group from the Jerusalem Community that was founded in Paris; the community serves the parish of St. Gervais there. I got to chat with one of the young nuns. We toured the church, refectory, scriptorium, chapel of St. Margaret Mary, and the cloister. At St. Pierre we met the pastor who is 95 years old and who was there 30 years ago during my last visit.

Fr. Dominic presided at Eucharist, and a group of Spanish-speaking people joined us. After, Fr. Dom and I caught a sandwich and drink on the way down. We had a two-hour trip to the Omaha Beach Cemetery and a brief visit. Our French guide reminded us that we were entering American territory. Under a clear blue sky, overlooking the sea, set in lush green grass were thousands of stark white crosses and a few stars of David marking our dead young Americans. It was literally breathtaking. We took a group picture in front of the memorial, and behind it were walls with all the names of the deceased. Then we went to Omaha beach to gather sand, and there stood a touching monument of a young soldier charging through the surf, dragging his dead buddy behind him. Needless to say, we left in a very somber, sober mood. After a time of reflection we prayed for all the deceased and then said Pope Francis’s prayer for peace that there be war never again. We got back late for another wonderful dinner of shrimp with avocado salad, pork leg with potatoes, and dessert.


Monday, October 6: Another early morning with breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and departure at 8:00 for Lisieux. In only 45 minutes we arrived at Les Buissonets (the Little Bushes), the family home of Therese Martin, the Little Flower of Lisieux. It was a large, affluent home. It was so early that we could not enter and only got photos. Because Therese’s mother died when she was only four and her elder sister, who became her second Mom, left her for the convent, Therese was, with a dispensation, permitted to enter the Carmelite convent (the “Carmel”), in 1887 at age 15.


Basilica of Ste. Therese

We visited the Carmel, the church, museum, and her tomb. Then we went to the Basilica of Ste. Therese. It is a massive church with a fine visitor center where there are informative posters and pictures about her life. We had Eucharist in the crypt adoration chapel and Fr. Dominic presided, while I preached and cantored. Then we traveled an hour-and-fifteen minutes to Rouen. It was pouring so we rushed to cafes with only an hour for lunch. I translated for a group of eight at Cafe Paul, across from the south transept.

We toured the Cathedral and then we tromped through the pouring rain to the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. It is now a large circle of varied flowers with a tall, pointed monument topped with a cross. We had a very long ride to Paris and arrived just in time for their daunting rush-hour traffic. However, in the midst of the terrible traffic we had beautiful views of the Bois de Boulogne (huge park) and the Champs Elysees. When we got to the TimHotel it was raining, we could not park on the narrow street, and the elevator and keys were not working. The hotel was booked solid so we could only solve problems by switching around rooms. After we were more or less settled we walked up to the Bistro Montmartre, a little family place near the Moulin Rouge and had a dinner of rice and veal stew with mushrooms and carrots and a dessert of ice cream and chocolate sauce. Everyone was feeling better afterward, although some were still sorting out rooms at 10 p.m.


Tuesday, October 7: After a frustrating evening of bags and rooms, everyone was settled and we had a very good breakfast. We took a long bus tour through Paris to the Trocadero for views of the Eiffel Tower. It was a beautiful, crisp morning. Then another long ride to the Parish of St. Sulpice, where Father Leo Dehon, our founder, was a regular member when in college and law school. It was there that he joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society and was first touched by direct service to the poor, and I believe converted to a new mind about the deprived in society.

We went to Sainte Chapelle and had a good visit; the light was good for the extravagant stained-glass windows. This was built by King St. Louis IX for the relic of the crown of thorns. Then we walked over for a tour of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. There was a Eucharist being celebrated but I was able to get some beautiful photos of the Notre Dame statue, rose windows, a high-relief carving of Thomas with the risen Jesus, and Joan of Arc.

It is amazing that in the midst of hundreds of tourists, real prayer occurs, and it is obvious why all of the older churches keep the Eucharist reserved in a side chapel for more quiet prayer.

St Michael w Jim

Fr. Jim (right) listens to a guide

Four of us had lunch at Cafe Esmeralda across from the Cloister Garden at the east end of the Cathedral. Then we had a long drive through the city to the north and the Basilica of Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart). We first visited St. Pierre, the little parish church of Montmartre, where St. Ignatius Loyola and his companions took their first vows. A new community of nuns at Sacred Coeur care for things, and a sister had me go before the exposed Eucharist at the main altar and pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart and a prayer of consecration to presence before the church full of pilgrims and tourists. Then our group proceeded to the crypt for Eucharist, and I presided and preached. Afterward we moved up our dinner from 8 p.m. to 6:30 and we had a really enjoyable time at the Cafe Cremaillere on the Place du Tertre (square of the artists) by Sacre Coeur. The restaurant was narrow but went deep and we had the section to ourselves with recorded music by Charles Aznavour, the French parallel of Frank Sinatra. We had classic French dishes: onion soup, boeuf bourguignon, and a crème brule that was excellent. Then it was a long walk back to our hotel; it got a little scary when we passed a man on drugs who was combative. But, we passed without incident.


Wednesday, October 8: A large group had come to our hotel, filled the dining area, and eaten like locusts. Our pickings were slim when we got there. Once again it was raining and we had a delay. Because of the delay we were left standing in the rain at Versailles for over a half hour since we lost our reservation slot. The Palace of Versailles was mobbed with tourists and it was hard to stay together and hear our guide. Many things have been refurbished there and it is stunning, although the tour was shorter than the one I took years ago. It was raining too much to tour the gardens so we took off for Chartres.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame is noted for its stained-glass windows. Also the apse and choir have been cleaned and are gleaming. They are working on two other sections. We had Eucharist in the crypt and Fr. Dominic presided and preached. Again, we had a very pleasant sacristan. We had an easy trip back to our hotel and moved dinner up to 8:15 p.m., again at the Cafe Montmartre. There was a group of 50 Filipinos from Kuwait there with their own pianist and they were loudly singing show tunes and even Christmas carols in English. It was fun. We had another good dinner of terrine de campagne and then sole with herbs and potatoes, with a dessert of charlotte with berries.


Thursday, October 9: We were able to rise later today. The big group was leaving so we had space and food this morning. We went to the shrine of St. Vincent de Paul, a classic church, obviously an active parish. His relics were below a crucifixion sculpture. Our group had more time to pray. Then we went to the shrine of the Miraculous Medal, the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity, with over 100 sisters. The chapel was beautiful and the group experienced the Eucharist as a highlight. We celebrated a Mass of Mary and I got to preside and preach on the Gospel of Gabriel’s visit to Mary and her Ecce Ancilla (Behold the Handmaid of the Lord) and Jesus’ Ecce Venio (Here I come to do your will, O God), a text beloved by Father Dehon.


The Musee d’Orsay

I had taught our group the hymn Salve Regina on the bus and when they sang it with a church full of people it was very moving. There was no rain and after Mass the sun came out and we had a free afternoon. A group of us walked toward the Seine and had lunch at a corner cafe on rue Ste. Germaine. Then we walked to the Musee d’Orsay (the Orsay Museum) and we had a little over two hours free. I got to see some of my favorite impressionists, such as Renoir, Monet, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as van Goghs. For the first time this trip I took the Metro back to change for dinner. All dressed in their best clothes and we left early for the Eiffel Tower. We had a slight wait for the group ticket up the elevator in the northeast leg to the first level. There are spots with new glass floors that give interesting views of those on the ground. We had dinner at 58 Tour Eiffel, an Alain Ducasse restaurant. Others had large prawns in avocado and I had duck pate. Then we had leg of lamb cut like filet mignons, with potato galettes and an herbed, foamy cloud of egg whites, with Bordeaux wine to drink. For dessert we had meringue shells with whipped cream and caramel bits in a caramel sauce. Perhaps my best meal ever. Afterward we did a tour of Paris at night on a navette, a river boat. Gorgeous.


Friday, October 11: We got to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast. I helped one woman shop for pastries. We left early for Charles de Gaulle Airport, and it was a good thing because nine of us had our tickets cancelled, and it took forever to get re-ticketed and check in. There is a beautiful new international terminal for Air France. We had a 777 and a good flight, although I had an inside seat. I watched the Grand Budapest Hotel and Nebraska. I was seated between a young woman who is an international lawyer from Beijing and a man from Denmark on his way to visit a brother in America. We arrived on time and experienced a new immigration process of checking oneself in before meeting an agent. Customs was easy.

I still am automatically saying “Merci” to people. It will take time for all of me to be home. It was a blessed trip and I met a lot of wonderful people. The benefits and blessings far outweighed the rain and scheduling and hotel problems.   I am grateful to Fr. Dominic and Pam for all they did to arrange this and manage it.

Merci beaucoup!

Delegates elected and chapter comes to an end

Group photo of chapter delegates. Fr. Tom is in the front row wearing white pants.

Group photo of chapter delegates. Fr. Tom is in the front row wearing white pants.

Today the Indian Chapter came to a close! One of the obligatory acts of all chapters is the official photo. There are 30 delegates in the photo plus Fr. Paul Suginio from the General Council and myself as moderator.

The present rules for their district state that anyone in final vows may participate in the chapter. This group (30) represents the bulk of those in final vows, the majority of those not present are Indian SCJs overseas for study. There are a few Indians who are now members of other provinces or regions and as such they are not counted as members of the district.

Our whole morning was spent going over the proposed SCJ District Directory. This is an important document that basically outlines how the community is to live, function and work in India. Every province, region or district is mandated to write a directory; and from time to time to update its content, usually following a General Chapter where certain changes are made in our general law (Our Rule of Life) that must then be reflected in the local directories. This is not an easy document to produce and a lot of credit goes to Fr. Jesu Manuel and his team for their excellent work.

Fr. Jesu gave credit to the work done in Angola and Vietnam on their district directories which provided models that made it easier to formulate the proposed Indian directory. It took all morning to go through the document — not always an easy task, but everyone stuck with it and by the noon break we were about ready to approve it.

Returning in the afternoon the first order of business was to make two modifications in the document; one in its introduction and the other regarding what to do with an appendix on vocations. Dispatching both in short order the directory was unanimously approved. It will now go to the general administration which must give its final approval before it has the force of law in the district.

That left one small but important matter to take care of: the election of two delegates and two alternates to next May’s XXIII General Chapter to be held at our Generalate in Rome. Since Fr. Thomas Vinod is not considered a major superior (because India is a district dependent upon the Generalate) he does not go to Rome automatically. I’m happy to report that he was elected as the first delegate on the first ballot. It didn’t take long to elect Fr. Vimala (Vimal) Thiyagarajan as the second delegate. The alternates elected are Fr. McQueen Mascarenhas and Fr. Marianand Gargarapu.

I might point out that Frs. Vimal and Marianand both studied in Rome. Fr. Vimal taking the SCJ formation course while I believe Fr. Marianand studied youth ministry at the Salisianum.

Since the voting went rather quickly we had time to bring the chapter to a close by giving the delegates a chance to bring anything up that had not been discussed during the chapter and since nothing was suggested we began an evaluation. Trusting the sentiment of those who spoke represented the opinions of all, the chapter was a success and was well received by each delegate. Keep in mind that for all but seven of the 30 delegates this was their first experience of a chapter. This gives district something more to build on for the future.

While the work of the delegates is done the work of the district council is not. It will meet at 6:00 pm and if necessary, after supper as well. Tomorrow is a day-long outing to the tourist sites of Mysore and then at 6:30 pm the 14 of us from Kerala will catch the bus to make the long journey home. If all goes well we’ll be back in Kochi around 4:30 a.m.

Day 3 at the Indian Chapter: finance and basketball!

Delegates at the Indian Chapter meet in small group

Delegates at the Indian Chapter meet in small group

As noted previously, Fr. Tom Cassidy is posting from Mylore, India, where he is moderator of the Indian District Chapter. He writes:

This was the third day of the Indian District Chapter. The morning was spent dealing with financial matters. Everyone is interested in where the dollars, or in this case, Indian rupees go!

Fr. Thomas Vinod, district superior, was the main presider at the opening Mass.

Fr. Thomas Vinod, district superior, was the main presider at the opening Mass.

We held the discussion sitting in a circle. I told them we were doing this to recognize that when it comes to money we are all saints and sinners and part of this process is to look inside and ask oneself where have you failed in giving good stewardship for the funds you have received or the income you may have earned ,or gifts.

Finally, before the reports began I told them what an old Baptist fund raising director once told me: “Remember, salvation is free, but religion costs money!”

There were challenging discussions but at the end of the day both of the financial reports given and the 12 recommendations of the finance commission were agreed upon.

Fr. Sugino, general councilor, listens to delegates.

Fr. Sugino, general councilor, listens to delegates.

The afternoon was not too difficult as there were not many proposals to consider and the other commission reports do not bring about the same passion that finance reports can.

The age of chapter delegates is significant. At our first session I asked: “Out of the 30 of you chapter members, how many were at the last chapter held six years ago?” When seven hands went up it showed just how much the district has grown and changed in that span. Part of the change was the loss of the foreign missionaries three years ago. Now the chapter membership is Indian and they all tend to be young.

The evaluation at the end of the chapter will be interesting. I do think that our small group work helped a lot and that’s what I’m most interested in learning when the evaluation takes place. Each time we went into groups we divided them by counting off 1 to 5.

This afternoon we were able to quit a bit early and that gave the delegates the chance to blow off a little steam on the basketball court. Most of the chapter members are between 28 and 35 with maybe six or seven of them above that. I think the oldest delegate just turned 50. By the way, we celebrate the birthday of Fr. Christy Peter today.

Fr. McQueen leads one of the small group discussions.

Fr. McQueen leads one of the small group discussions.



10 hours on a bus and the chapter begins!

The logo for the 2014 Indian District Chapter. Fr. Tom is serving as chapter moderator.

The logo for the 2014 Indian District Chapter. Fr. Tom is serving as chapter moderator.

Fr. Tom writes from Mysore, India, where the Indian District holds its chapter this week. He is serving as moderator of the gathering.

It was a very long day starting with our trip from Kumbalanghi at 8:30 p.m. We boarded our bus at the Kochi bus terminal at 10:15 p.m. and thought we would arrive in Mysore at 4:30 a.m. However, there are at least two ways to get from Kochi to Mysore and our bus took what I would call the long route, the SLOW route. So instead of arriving at 4:30 in the morning it was closer to 8:30. Our next task was to find transportation for the 14 of us from there to the Pallottine Centre for Theology & Religious Formation. It’s about a half hour drive from the city center. It didn’t take long for Fr. Vimal to make contact with a gentleman who said he could provide us with a mini-bus for 14. Vimal had the task to speak with him as he spoke (or understood) Kanni, the driver’s language.

Let me turn back for a moment to our bus trip. I did not sleep well. Our bus was air-conditioned and pleasant, but I just don’t sleep well while traveling, especially when the roads were sometimes a bit rough and we often had to slow down for speed bumps. There was one virtue to the long route to Mysore. We traveled through a Tiger Preserve and Game Park. To do so we had to wait a bit at the entrance since it did not open until 6:00 a.m. That meant that we had daylight as we traveled through it.

Fr. Tom being honored, Indian style.

Fr. Tom being honored, Indian style.

No, I did not see a tiger, but we did see game; a wild pig (wort hog?), several members of the deer or antelope family, a monkey or two and, of course, birds. It did take time to go through this park as it had I don’t know how many speed bumps to keep the traffic moving slowly — signs reminded drivers animals have the right of way.

Because we were late to arrive our chapter program had to be adjusted for the morning. We unpacked, took a shower and had breakfast. At 10:30 a.m. we met in the conference room and were welcomed by Fr. Paul, rector of the seminary. He gave us a reflection to open our chapter based on the district’s prayer for the chapter.

Our actual work began with the afternoon season at 3:00 p.m. There is a good break between dinner (1:00 p.m.) and the first afternoon session at 3:00 pm. That gives me just enough time to take an hour’s walk and shower before our sessions began. The afternoon was devoted to the presentation of the status of the district by Fr. Thomas Vinod, the district superior. This is a practice in all our provinces, regions and districts. The superior begins the chapter reflecting on what took place over the last six years. I suggested to them before we began discussing the presentation that a model used at Sacred Heart School of Theology would serve them well:

1. What did we do well?
2. What could we have done better?
3. What do we need to do looking toward the future?

Cultures have their own way of doing things and sometimes I think Indians can be hard on one another. It may in part because they are not dealing in their native language and it can be hard to express oneself. It also may simply be a part of their culture — or better put, CULTURES, as there are many.

The day ended at 6:30 p.m. with a half hour for a bath before evening prayer and Mass at 7:00 p.m. I told the delegates that this is the only chapter that I’ve been to where the daily schedule includes time for a bath. However, keep in mind that in a hot climate and after a long day a bath is not a luxury but needed to refresh mind and body.

The school system in India

Indian District student community

A week before Fr. Tom moderates the Indian District Chapter and heads back to the United States he writes about the education system in India:

This morning at breakfast we talked about the Indian school system. Here at Kumbalanghi we run a minor seminary, but at least at present it also includes the program for senior aspirants. To get in my head just how things work I asked if they would outline the Indian school system for me.

First of all, as in many countries there are both public and a private schools. As in the States schooling starts with kindergarden. India has 4 and 5 year old kindergarden classes. Primary school runs from grade 1 to 7 and high school grades 8 to 10. Through grade 10, schooling is both compulsory and free. What we would call junior and senior year of high school is referred to as Plus 2. The senior aspirants are Plus 2 students. Ideally they would have their own house and formation program and that may be coming in the not too distant future, but for now there are senior aspirants at both of our minor seminaries (Gorantla and Kumbalanghi). Though the senior aspirants do have their own formation director (Fr. Vimal) and their own program, though the daily schedule is almost identical for both programs.


University is a 3 to 5 year program. The typical BA is done in three years while science and medicine take 1 to 2 years more. As in most western countries,  after that is considered post graduate work leading to either an MA or Ph.D

Currently our philosophy students earn their BA in 3 years, usually majoring in literature in addition to their philosophical studies. There is some discussion because of changes in educational law will have students earn a BA before doing their philosophical studies.As you might imagine the quality of education depends on many factors. Similar to our own US experience the more affluent the school the better the education. The more rural or poor the school  the more likely the quality will be less.

The church, through religious communities, especially sisters’ communities, run many schools. These schools have always enjoyed good reputations for the education they offer. Here too is where English comes into play. You’ll see many schools advertise that they give their classes in English or teach English. However, advertising this and doing it is not always the same.
English is important for several reasons given the influence of Britain on India since it was a colony for many years. Because of this, English is one of the common languages of the country. More important it became the language of education. Today Hindi is also an important language of education though again it in part depends on where you live in India.
Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 2.02.28 PMEnglish is also important as it has become a common language in Asia, the lingua franca, you might say. Finally it is important because it is the commercial and business language as well. Thus you can see why parents who want their children to advance will look for schools that will give them a good foundation and one in which gives the student English proficiency.

As for the SCJs, English is also important as it is not only the common language of the district but it is also the common language among all four of our Asian entities (Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and India).Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 2.04.12 PMIn closing, a word about the pictures I am am posting. The first is of one of our students, Ashwin Joseph. The other day he came up to me and introduced himself. He said that he did so so that when I come back I will remember his name! To make sure I wouldn’t disappoint him I took his picture just after the noon meal last Sunday as a way to keep his name fresh in mind.. Ashwin is in higher secondary school.

As I was taking his picture it was suggested I also snap one of Dileep since it was his 19th birthday. Comparing Ashwin and Dileep will give you a good idea of the age range currently here at Kumbalanghi. That is one reason why the district would like to have a separate house for the senior aspirants.  Dileep has finished Plus 2 and the senior aspirant year is designed to give him an introduction to the SCJ community and its way of life. He will move from here to our house in Aluva next school year to begin his university studies and deepen his understanding of our SCJ charism and religious life.

The photo of Dileep also gives you a view of the dinning hall. Note the row of sinks in the background. Eating with your hands (as is typical in much of India) requires washing well both before and after the meal.

New construction, a family memorial and the challenge of languages in India

Parishioners stand in the foundation of their evolving sub-station church in Nambur. The photo was taken before Fr. Tom's visit to the area so more work has been done than what is seen here.

Parishioners stand in the foundation of their evolving sub-station church in Nambur. The photo was taken before Fr. Tom’s visit; more work has been done than what is seen here.

We catch-up with Fr. Tom Cassidy today with a weekend of journal entries from India:

The day before leaving the novitiate for Gorantla I met with Fr. Dharam, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish & Shrine in Nambur. In addition to the main church there are either two or three sub-stations. Two of the sub-stations are not all that far apart from one another but a six-lane highway makes it difficult to go from one church to the other for many of the families. One of the sub-stations meets in a school and that works out fine for them, but the other has less favorable conditions and so the decision to build.

Up until now all the work on the church has been paid for by the parishes members themselves. The walls are up and the window frames are in. Fr. Dharma hopes to put the roof on in the next week or two. That may be slowed as he was admitted to the hospital yesterday suffering from dengue fever. He told me he had not been feeling well for the past few days, thinking he was suffering from a cold.

Last January I was present for the dedication of Sacred Heart Church in Nambur. The US Province donated funds to help pay for its construction. Fr. Dominic Peluse and Pam Milczarski from our development office were also present for the dedication and festivities. Fr. Dharma hopes to dedicate the new church on January 26, 2015, the same date chosen for the dedication of Sacred Heart last January.

Visiting with local SCJs

Visiting with local SCJs

I am now back in Kumbalanghi and will stay until we head to Mysore for the chapter. I think we will leave here on the 12th as the chapter will start on my birthday October 13th. Fr. Thomas Vinod told me I’d finally get my bus ride as it is a six-hour bus trip from here to Mysore. We will be using the facilities of the Pallottine Centre for Theological and Religious Formation.

I am hoping that  while I am here in Kumbalanghi I’ll be able to visit our house of philosophy in Aluva and a parish we have in Punalur. I did visit Aluva on my first trip to India in 2011, but our work at Punalur is unknown to me. I met one of the young priests from Punalur, Fr. Kasmir Joseph, who is spending the day here. He described Punalur as a place few come to visit as it is off the beaten path.

I will also use this time to get ready for the chapter. It will only last for five days and there is a lot of material to cover. It will be interesting to see how things operate as this is my first experience at a large official gathering of Indian SCJs that I will be a part of. From my time in Rome I’m well aware that cultures have their own way of doing things and certainly that is true in India. The language will be English, but the accent will be Indian.

A memorial for Br. Xavier's father

A memorial for Br. Xavier’s father

Attending an Anniversary Memorial

Yesterday I was asked if I would like to come with the SCJ community to attend the one-year anniversary memorial service for the father of Br. Xavier Viju. Br. Xavier comes from the nearby village of Kumbalam The custom here among the Indian Catholic community is to celebrate memorials for the deceased seven days after death, followed by 30 days and finally 365 days. Fr. Thomas Vinod was the main celebrant and the words (spoken at the start of Mass rather then after the gospel) were by Fr. Solomon Siju.

After Mass we walked to the parish cemetery for a graveside service. Both Kumbalanghi and Kumbalam are very close to the sea so I suspect the water table is close to the service so burial tends to be shallow. White is the color a widow wears, though the vestments for Mass were purple. The cemetery was about one kilometer (.62 miles) from the church. Most parishes have their own cemeteries though in some places several parishes may share a common cemetery.

Once the graveside service concluded we walked back to church to get our vehicle and drive to Br. Xavier’s family house. The family would be serving a meal for family, friends and guests.  A custom I am still not all that comfortable with is that the meal for the priests and religious was served separate.

Sunday Mass

Sunday Mass

Sunday Mass

Our small parish has its Sunday morning Mass at 7:30, a time when Mother Nature tends to be kind to all as the sun has not had a chance to heat up the earth. Ceiling fans also help to keep it relatively comfortable in the church even though. If you did not know India you would think only women come to church. While it is true you’ll find more women then men, it is the women who sit before the altar while the men sit in an area off to the side. There is not room in the main part of the church for all.

There are four priests and one student regent assigned to the Kumbalanghi community. On any given day two or three of the priests will be out celebrating Mass. We take care of two convents on a regular basis (daily except for Sundays).

One of the problems the district faces is the many languages spoken where we live and work. In Kerala it is Malayalam, which I am told is not an easy language to master. Both Frs. Vimal and Emmanuel come from Andhra Pradesh where Telugu is the official language.The main languages spoken in Andhra Pradesh are Telugu, Urdu, Hindi, Banjara, and English followed by Tamil, Kannada, Marathi and Oriya. Telugu is the principal and official language of the state.

Because of the language situation pastoral work depends on what languages one knows and what language may be required. Unlike we Americans Indians tend to know several languages and dialects; it’s in the nature of the people and, of course, Mother Necessity helps out as well.  Fr. Emmanuel, for example, has taught himself to read, write and speak Malayalam, something I would find extremely difficult at any age, but it just seems to come naturally to people who learn several languages from birth on.The language issue for the Indian SCJ District will get more complicated as it expands to other areas of India. Hindi will be important in many parts of the country, but even then the local language is the one more likely to be used in liturgical situations.

In our houses of formation the language is English and the SCJs assigned to the formation communities are chosen for their aptitude in formation. On the other hand, when assigned to a parish in addition to the talents of the individual attention must be paid to the languages he speaks as that will be an important pastoral issue.

A welcoming, and a birthday celebration!

The "welcome" wishes came on Fr. Tom's last night with the community, but cake is good no matter when it is served!

The “welcome” wishes came on Fr. Tom’s last night with the community, but cake is good no matter when it is served!

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India where he is assisting with formation and administrative tasks:

Monday was the last day I would spend at the novitiate as this morning I left for Gorantla at about 9:30 a.m. Last night the novices and postulants put on a party — for SCJs old enough to remember we called it a “convivium.” As our cake pictured above states, it was a welcome to “Dear Fr. Tom” and a “Happy Birthday to Dear Deacon Bhaskar and Chitti Babu,” “Chitti” is pronounced as it looks and has a nice ring to it. In English it means little boy. Our “Chitti” is a postulant.

Deacon Bhaskar is one of the three deacons to be ordained to the priesthood on October 28th right here in Gorantla by Bishop Gali Bali (another nice sounding name). Dn. Bhaskar spent a few weeks at the novitiate to prepare for his ordination. He spent most of his diaconate in a parish setting.

Most of the day until the evening meal the novices spentin silence. Having reading at breakfast and lunch brought back memories of my own novitiate and college days when we had table reading. Following Vatican II many changes in formation took place and table reading was one of many things to disappear for us. Many Benedictine Monasteries still continue the practice at least for some of their meals.

A novice’s day also includes classes in religious life and topics specific to the SCJ history and charism as well as the life and writing of our founder Leo John Dehon. There is time in the day for work and play (sports). There is, as you might imagine, also lots of time spent in chapel for different religious exercises such as Mass and Adoration, the latter a very integral part of our charism. Finally, when evening comes conversation returns to the supper table followed by an hour’s recreation.

Novices perform a routine

Novices perform a routine

Our party took place after supper. Pictured here (though a little dark) are the novices doing a group synchronized routine. It was rather well done, I might add.

In addition to various routines done by novices and postulants the two birthday boys and Iwere given testimonials by one of the novices or postulants. We were then invited to say a few words. Mine centered on how I always marvel at the SCJ hospitality that I’ve experienced in many parts of the world. We take no courses in how to do it and yet it is so much a part of the fabric of our community life and spirit.

Finally, toward the end of the evening the cake was cut and served along with ice cream. I think there’s an art to eating ice cream in India. I could summarize that art in one word: “FAST!” As in “eat it FAST” because of the heat, and also, I think because of the way it’s made here, the ice cream lends itself to rapid melting much like back in Milwaukee where frozen custard seems to melt faster then regular ice cream. In any case, don’t wait too long or you’ll drink your ice cream rather then eat it!

All good things must come to an end and so about 10:15 pm the party ended and off we all went to get a good night’s sleep before it was time at 5:00 a.m. to answer the alarm and start a new day, a day that would bring to a close my all too brief visit to Nambur.