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.

Visiting with the novitiate community in India

The stained glass window behind the altar at the novitiate chapel in India.

The stained glass window behind the altar at the novitiate chapel in India.

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from the SCJs’ novitiate community in India:

As is common when a visitor comes, there is a welcoming ceremony. Fr. Peter Chris, the postulant master, welcomed me to the novitiate. I received a garland of flowers and was presented with coconut milk (I’m not very fond of the stuff, but with encouragement took several sips). Personal greetings from the novices and postulants followed, well at least from most of them. Two of the novices were on a day of silence and would not break that silence until dinner at 7:30 p.m.

Fr. Tom tries a bit of coconut milk

Fr. Tom tries a bit of coconut milk, though admits that it isn’t his favorite India treat!

It was good to meet up with the novice class. They were a large part of my time and life while at Eluru last winter. My fondest memory was of our four-day pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Health at Velankanni.

The novitiate house is built as an ashram (a spiritual hermitage or monastery often used for meditation and/or religious instruction) not far from the city of Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, in an area called Nambur.

There are Christian Ashrams throughout India and to call our novitiate “Sacred Heart Ashram” is very appropriate as the novitiate year is dedicated to learning about religious life, developing a deeper prayer life and spirituality, and establishing one’s identity as an SCJ through the study of our founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon, Our Rule of Life, and the history of the congregation.

For the novices, Sunday is both a day of rest and a day of ministry to the community and in our nearby Sacred Heart Parish. The ministry to the community is centered in the kitchen. The women who do the everyday cooking have Sunday off so the task of providing a meal falls to either a group of postulants or novices.

Kitchen duty

Kitchen duty

All of the novices (and postulants) get their turn to display their culinary talents over the course of the novitiate year. Fr. McQueen, the novice master, is no stranger to the kitchen either and lends his expertise from time to time.

If they are not in the kitchen then you’ll find the novices helping out at our parish or one of its substations teaching catechism or working with youth. The parish Sunday Mass is at 10:30 a.m., though the novices already had their community Mass at 7:00 a.m., at which I was the presider.

The afternoon is free for rest and reading as well as sports. Alas, there is not enough land for a cricket pitch so the favorite games are badminton or basketball.

I am back to my walking routine here and yesterday I ran into a monkey. It was sitting just off the walkway and it stared at me and I stared at it. On my next circuit it was gone.