Welcome Fr. Jim!

Fr. Jim and Fr. Tom as welcomed with flowers and coconut milk

Fr. Jim and Fr. Tom as welcomed with flowers and coconut milk

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India soon after welcoming Fr. Jim to Chennai. Fr Jim will be in India through October to give several presentations and workshops.

OCTOBER 5 – Fr. James Schroeder, SCJ, and I arrived via Spice Jet on a flight from Chennai to Kochi. Chennai is the fourth largest city in India after Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi followed by Kochi. By our prop jet it’s just about an hour flying time from the east coast of India (on the Bay of Bengali) and south across India to Kochi which rest on the west coast (Arabian Sea).

The hour went by fast and before we knew it, it was touchdown and our six-day-visit to Kerala was underway. Br. Sajeevan Marcelin, SCJ (treasurer and formator) was there to greet us along with Anu, one of the philosophy students. Our Dehon Vidya Sadhan philosophy house of studies isn’t too far from the airport, certainly closer than it is to our minor seminary at Kumbalanghi. We enjoyed the Indian ritual that welcomes guests, especially newcomers to a community. At DVS the ritual was complete, leaving out only the use of incense. We were greeted with a song, given a hearty welcome by Fr. Christy Peter Chittapanezhikathuvila, SCJ (superior of the community), handed flowers and then garlanded, and offered coconut milk.

The milk I usually only take a sip of as I’m not a fan of coconut milk or for that matter, many other ways coconut is served. Having said that, I should note coconut and coconut milk are often used in Indian cooking and I have no difficulty with its use or flavor. With a handshake and introduction with each of the students the two of us were shown our rooms and invited to the SCJ rec room for the short period remaining before dinner.

As our guest, Jim was given the main guest room that was at one time used by Fr. Thomas Fix, SCJ, when he was on staff. I stayed in that room on my first visit to India in 2011. Fr. Fix is revered in India and anyone who had him as a formation director or more important, spiritual director, speak of him in saintly terms. Both Jim and I certainly concur with their assessment.

As a travel day we were pretty much given the rest of the day off. It gave Jim a chance to begin to get himself organized as he’s going to be kept busy and has lots of talks to give. He’ll give an hour’s conference to the postulants and philosophy students on Saturday evening. The philosophy students are away at the moment on retreat and will return sometime on Saturday.

St. Joseph's under construction

St. Joseph’s under construction

OCTOBER 6 – The trip to visit our two parishes in the diocese of Punalore was, to put it bluntly, long and tiring! Here it’s best to forget how far away anything might be but rather ask: “How long does it take to get there?” If you asked that question my answer for Punalore would be: “Almost five hours to get there and four hours to get home!”

Because of the length of the trip Br. Sajeevan Marcelin, SCJ, the treasurer and a member of the formation team at DVS, was joined by Br. Xavier Viju, SCJ, who belongs to the Punalore SCJ community living with Fr. Colin Nepolian, SCJ, parish priests at St. Joseph Church, Soorarnaad. Both brothers drive. Keep in mind that not all Indian SCJs drive cars though most, if not all, drive motorbikes. It also helped that Xavier has lived in Punalore for several years, first at John Paul Bhavan, Koodal and now with Fr. Colin.

Sajeevan and Xavier are the only two finally-professed brothers in the district. Both can trace their SCJ roots almost to the beginning of our presence in 1994. We had a good discussion about the meaning of the brotherhood and the importance of it as a vocation. In many ways it is very important to a mixed community like ours as it is a constant reminder that we are religious first.

Our talks helped to while away the five hours it took us to get to John Paul Bahavan where Fr. Issac Sunil Roma, SCJ, is parish priest and Fr. Siju Solomon, SCJ, is the the assistant.

The church is just down the hill from the community house. The four of us were guests for dinner prepared as a joint effort between their cook and the two of SCJs. Many of our SCJs know how to cook, often a skill they first learned at home and perhaps improved during their seminary years. For example, this morning eight of the students were on breakfast detail making chapatti and on Sundays the students always take care of breakfast.

Fr. Sunil, while showing us the small parish church, told us that the entire parish is getting ready for their three-day-festival in honor of their patron, St. Jude, whose feast is celebrated on October 28. Fr. Jim asked him if his use of the term parish festival meant this was a fundraising activity of the parish, as would be common in the States. No, replied Fr. Sunil, it is simply an opportunity for the parish to pray and grow together as a community. It will include prayer as well as a parish meal to cap off the celebrations, and I think he said a procession as well.

We then headed to our other parish in Sooranad. I was particularly interested in visiting as on my one and only trip to Punalore a couple of years ago we did not have a chance to visit. Br. Xavier lives at Sooranad along with Fr. Colin Neapolitan, SCJ, the parish priest. He and his people have been struggling to find the funds needed to complete the new St. Joseph’s parish church. The original built in 1919 is too small for the number of Catholics. The plan is to turn the old church into a parish hall/center.

Getting the funds has been a struggle. I think, and this is from memory, they still need about $$78,000.00 to complete it. For now work goes on as funds become available. The new church is a lot larger then the one built in 1919.

We did not have all that much time to spend at Kollam. We did manage to get a taste of Br. Xavier’s homemade altar wine that he makes for our various communities. It’s not bad as altar wine goes, certainly as good as what was used in Italy during my time in Rome.

Is there a patron saint of copy machines?

Fr. Tom and the students after the blessing

Fr. Tom and the students after the blessing

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India:

In the Catholic Church there seems to be a prayer and a blessing for everything and everyone (including animals who will be blest in many parts of the world on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4th).

Yesterday our new copy machine was delivered. The house has been without one since before I first came to Christu Dehon Nivas in 2013. The brothers [students] who get 300 rupees a month [about $4.50) pocket money to take care of personal needs, recreation, etc., have been paying 1 rupee a page for anything they need copied for school. At the first community meeting before the opening of the school year the request was made for a house copy machine.

To make a long story short I heard about the need and when I was given money from two residents at Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake for India I suggested to Fr. Michael Augustine, SCJ, (our rector) that it be used towards the copy machine. Their gift came to just under 50,000 rupees [about $750].  Fr. Michael Benedict, SCJ (district treasurer) said that the district could cover the difference.

Indian Catholics believe in having just about everything blessed, especially if it is new.  Thankfully, as I noted at the beginning, there is a blessing for almost everything, and if you can’t find one you can create one.

Since it was our donors at SHML who were instrumental in getting the new copy machine Fr. Michael asked me to bless it. In the Church ritual book there is actually a “Blessing of Technical Installations or Equipment.”

Fr. Tom blesses the new machine

Fr. Tom blesses the new machine

I asked Br. Manish Nayak, SCJ (2nd year) to do the reading as he and I were going to do the blessing of the new clothing shop in Vempadu, during last week’s inauguration of the our new house but that got postponed as the room wasn’t ready. It’s now on our future to-do list when called upon. There was a rather long reading that Manish prepared for the occasion and since he didn’t get a chance to deliver it in Vempadu I thought it fitting he do the reading for our copy machine blessing.

I’ll briefly quote from the blessing service’s introduction: “Through the work of our hands and the help of technology we cooperate with the Creator to improve the earth as the dwelling place of the human family. By our efforts to bring the work of creation to perfection, we contribute to the advancement of society and carry out Christ’s mandate to follow him in serving one another in love. Let us, then, bless God as we use these products of technology [our new copy machine] for our advantage and never forget to offer praise to him, who is the true light and the fount of that water which springs up to eternal life.”

Though I won’t mention the names of our two benefactors from Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake here, I did let the brothers know who they are and asked them to pray for them and their needs. So often our generous benefactors are like ghosts to are the recipients of their kindness, i.e., unknown to us.  When you can put a name or a face to the generosity of others I think it is more meaningful.

The machine is located in the brothers computer room; all four computers are wired to it. The next model up allowed for a wireless connection but the expense was beyond our capabilities. Laptops can be brought to the room and manually connected when printing is needed.

So in closing, we are most grateful to the generosity of others for making life and education here at Christu Dehon Nivas not only better but in ways that will aid in our spiritual, educational and human interaction and communication.

Seminarian “jumps in” to ministry in Brazil

Frater Juancho's youth team from the Ecce Venio camp

Frater Juancho’s youth team from the Ecce Venio camp

Ecce Venio!!!

Frater Juancho Castañeda Rojas, SCJ, just began his ministry year in Brazil. All students do at least a year of ministry prior to their final profession of vows. Frater Juancho writes:

Jumping in!! Yes, that was the way how my ministry began in Brazil. I could never have imagined that I would have such amazing experiences only two days after my arrival in Brazil. I am grateful to experience a new culture, new language, and a new community whose members have been really welcoming to me.

“Juan, would you like to participate in the Ecce Venio Camp?” was the question that would change and give direction to my journey in Brazil. “Ecce Venio” [Behold, I come] –– many times I have heard that phrase and understood it as a pillar of our Dehonian charism. Because of the purpose of the camp I cannot reveal the activities that we did, but I can say it was not what I was expecting at all. It was more intense than I thought it would be, filled with many challenges that required strength, team effort, trust, and abandonment.

Ecce Venio Dehonian cross

Ecce Venio Dehonian cross

I was able to feel the energy of all the participants and the leaders of the event. It was really amazing to be among this group of young people who had the desire to feel the presence of God in their lives. But most of all, it was wonderful to feel the presence of God in their lives through Dehonian spirituality. Seeing so many people wearing Dehonian crosses as a symbol of identity was really encouraging to me. It was just as encouraging as the experience I had in Poland at World Youth Day where I was able to see and feel Dehonian spirituality being alive in them and carried out by young people there.  

Tears, fears, lack of trust — not only in others but the lack of trust we have in ourselves —  these were the feelings we had when we faced challenges. But joy, satisfaction, courage, humility and abandonment were the feelings we shared after accomplishing all of the challenges. And the faces filled with joy and marked by tears of happiness were stronger than the physical pain and tiredness we all felt.

At the end of the camp, all of us received the Dehonian cross on which was engraved the phrase “Ecce Venio.” What a beautiful gift of identity and what a wonderful way to start to live Ecce Venio as part of our lives and spirituality as Dehonians.

I really have to admit I was super-tired after this camp. But the physical feeling did not take away the overwhelming feeling of renewal of my spirituality as a Dehonian. That was because the camp gave a stronger meaning to what Ecce Venio really means. It was an amazing experience and as someone helped me remember, most of the best experiences in our lives are also the most tiring or painful.

This is how my pastoral year has become not just a learning experience about our ministry and mission in Brazil, but also a spiritual experience of learning more about myself and deepening the meaning of Ecce Venio in my life guided by the spirit of abandonment in God’s will.  

The full group of participants at Ecce Venio

The full group of participants at Ecce Venio

Celebrating Onam


Fr. Tom (middle) and his “sous-chefs”

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India about the celebration of “Onam,” one of the largest festivals celebrated in the State of Kerala, India. To start the day, Fr. Tom was the breakfast chef. He writes:

I woke up this morning at about 4:50 am to get ready for kitchen duty as our crew of four brothers and myself agreed to begin preparations for breakfast at 5:30 am. Breakfast was scheduled for 7:45 am so that gave us sufficient time for all the cooking and preparation that had to be done. This is, of course, the feast of Onam and as I’ve said celebrated in India but especially in Kerala. Here is a brief synopsis from Wikipedia:

Onam (Malayalam: ഓണം) is the biggest festival celebrated in Kerala, India. It is also the State festival of Kerala with State holidays on 4 days starting from Onam Eve (Uthradom) to the 3rd Onam Day.

The festival falls during the Malayalam month of Chingam (Aug – Sep) and marks the commemoration of home-coming of the mythical King Mahabali. In Kerala, it is the festival celebrated with most number of cultural elements such as Vallam Kali, Pulikali, Pookkalam, Onathappan, Tug of War, Thumbio, Thullal, Kummati, kali ,Onathallu, Onavillu, Kazhchakkula, Onapottan, Atthachamayam etc. Onam is reminiscent of Kerala’s agrarian past, as it is considered to be a harvest festival.

One of the traditions of Onam and, I think, at other important events is the floral arrangement that Brs. Libin Paulos, SCJ (2nd year), Franklin Victor, SCJ (3rd year) and Alex John, SCJ (1st year) worked on from about 11:00 pm until early morning. They were putting finishing touches on it when I walked outside my room to head to the kitchen at about 5:20 am this morning.

Our schedule for the day runs like this:

6:30 am rising

7:00 am adoration and morning prayer

7:45 am American Breakfast (the ‘odd man out brigade’  from Tamil Nadu, Mumbai, Orissa and Wisconsin)

11:30 am Indian Mass 

1:00 pm Onam banquet (prepared by the brothers from Kerala)

3:00 pm Traditional Kerala games 

8:00 pm Supper (prepared by the brothers from Andhra Pradesh)

The fourth year students actually had class this morning at 9:00 am. We are in Andhra Pradesh and the meaning and practice of Onam is limited to Indians originally from Kerala. As I noted yesterday we did not celebrate it during the time Fr. Louis Mariano Fernandes, SCJ, was rector as he was from Goa.

Scrambling the eggs for an American breakfast!

Scrambling the eggs for an American breakfast!

As far as breakfast is concerned it went over well. Not one of the brothers had ever tasted scrambled eggs. At least in our houses when you say egg it’s either hard boiled or what the call an omelet, though it is a bit different from what we’d find in the States and certainly different from those served on Eggs to Order Day at Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake. 

My crew showed up on time with Br. John Benedict Vinoth Kumar Antonyraj, SCJ (4th year from Tamil Nadu) was technically about three minutes late, but for him that’s like being on time. We spent the first hour getting all the preparation work out of the way, especially peeling and slicing potatoes for the fried potato dish and peeling and chopping onions for both their fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. Yes, tears were shed over the onions but they were happy tears. Our last task were to cut up the tomatoes and that job was expertly handled by Brs. Manish Nayak, SCJ (2nd year from Orissa) and Sajeet Pillai, SCJ (2nd year from Mumbai) Both John and Rekha (the our cooks) came and gave us some assistance, especially in lighting the grill, making the coffer and assisting Vinoth with frying the potatoes and onions.

Br. Shabu Dennis, SCJ (3rd year from Tamil Nadu) was helping me with the scrambled eggs (we added onions and cheese for this recipe) but somewhere along the line Br. Franklin Victor, SCJ (3rd year from Kerala) stepped in and took over for Shabu, who didn’t seem to mind. With everything well in handy we managed a ten minute coffee break before starting to cook the eggs and potatoes.

We were able to finish everything and have the meal out and ready before the brothers came from either chapel or in case of our basketball team from practice. If I were to jude the quality of the meal only the fried potatoes were a disappointment to me (not to the brothers since it was new to them) they could have been cooked a bit longer. I think we had too many people at the grill turning them too often. The flavor was just fine but I’d call them a bit undercooked.

The eggs on the other hand came out perfectly. I told Shabu, that once we had cracked the eggs his job was to beat the bejesus out of them to get as much air into them as we can. Shabu performed his task admirably!

SCJs in India celebrate Mother Teresa’s canonization

The banner designed by Br. Hari Kumar Barigala, SCJ, for the celebration of Mother Teresa's canonization

The banner designed by Br. Hari Kumar Barigala, SCJ, for the celebration of Mother Teresa’s canonization

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India:

Yesterday was a very special day for Indians with the canonization of Mother Teresa of Kolkata in St. Peter’s Square by Pope Francis. The ceremony was broadcast on a number of channels.

September 5 will from now on be the yearly date to celebrate the life of Mother Teresa.

Indian SCJs watch the canonization on TV

Indian SCJs watch the canonization on TV

We joined with the religious of Eluru for a Mass of Thanksgiving and the first Memorial Mass in honor of Mother Teresa. The Mass began at 6:00 pm, or rather the preliminaries began that included a welcome by the rector of Vljnananilayam Institute of Philosophy and Religion, Fr. Lourdes Showry, OFM Cap, followed by a short video on the life of Mother Teresa ending with Pope Francis’ proclamation of sainthood from the morning Mass in St. Peter’s Square. After the video the priests vested and the Mass began. Vljnananilayam auditorium holds at least 600 people and though not all the seats were taken I’m guessing we had about 500 participants. Among the communities of women religious were two sisters from the Missionaries of Charity, the congregation founded by Mother Teresa in 1950. It certainly was a proud moment for them and the men and women religious of her congregations serving in over 100 countries around the world.

Pope John Paul II established a house within the Vatican for her community called “Gift of Mary” to provide a homeless shelter for women and also operate a type of soup kitchen for the many street people of Rome. For those who’ve been to Rome it’s at the corner of Gregorio VII (Vale Vaticano) and Largo de Porta Cavallegeri. Though I had many walking routes in Rome my favorite took me from our Generalate down to St. Peter’s and each day I would pass by the entrance and watch mostly men line up waiting for something to eat and perhaps some clothing as well. It was often a barometer of who were the recent migrants and refugees arriving in Italy and at the bottom of the social ladder. When I first began my walks in 1991 they were for the most part men coming from Africa as time went on the makeup shifted to men from Eastern Europe looking for a better life and economic opportunity. There were, of course, “true” street people men and in some cases women, who for a various reasons lived, or were forced to live, on the streets._

A number of religious communities contributed to our celebration. Two of our SCJs participated in the choir as they often do at special school functions. The servers and deacons were from the Capuchins, who own and operate Vljnananilayam Institute of Philosophy and Religion. Others were responsible for decorations and liturgy planning etc. As is the custom in India all were acknowledged at the close of Mass.

When all was said and done we headed home in our van, truck and motorbike by about 8:40 pm. Two of our students were left behind but a quick phone call and our motorbike went to pick them up to arrive just in time for the start of supper.

Our cooks, John and Rekha, provided ice cream for the community in honor of their daughter, Shasikala’s, birthday. We, of course, did a modified version of birthday greetings carrying out the ritual minus the cake.

Thus ended a very busy and a very proud day for Indian Catholics and truly for all Indians for Mother Teresa, for this little woman with a strong will and a strong heart who did so much for the poor first in India and now around the globe through her priests, brothers and nuns, all true missionaries of charity.

Busy weekend, including a canonization!

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 9.30.19 AM

Fr. Tom Cassidy shares his journal from India:

SEPTEMBER 1, 2016 – This Sunday India will be celebrating the canonization of Mother Teresa of Kolkata. With Europe closer to us then the States the time difference is not so great and both CNN and BBC will telecast it live starting at 1:00 pm Indian time.

To prepare for Sunday’s canonization we’ve begun a Tridiuum (three days of prayer). The days are being organized by the students; each day has a theme:

Thursday: Mother Teresa, as a Mother of Profound Prayer
Friday: Mother Teresa, as a Mother of the Poorest of the Poor
Saturday: Mother Teresa, as an Angel of God’s Merciful Love

The celebrations will be capped off with a Solemn Eucharistic Celebration at Vijnananilayam (school campus) in honor of India’s new aaint. It has been organized by CRI of Eluru (the conference of men and women religious) and will be presided over by Bishop Matthew Cherienkunnel, PIME, the bishop emeritus of Eluru. I believe this will be my first meeting with Bishop Matthew as he had retired before my first stay at Christu Dehon Nivas.

M TheresaLater on this afternoon our volleyball team will visit the VincentiansDe Paul minor seminary (Plus II) and college to play a friendly match. They played in last year’s tournament and won the trophy but were voted out of this year’s tournament since they are not a seminary/religious community. In addition, the school has about 2,000 students – far larger the any of the religious communities attending Vljnananilayam Institute of Philosophy and Religion. It certainly will be a good test of our skills as we prepare to meet the winner of today’s All Franciscan semi-finals.

Since we will be playing this match at 4:00 pm I took my walk this morning and went to Vilnananilayam walking through their campus and found my way to the Sisters of St. Lucy compound where they also have a large school. One building celebrates the “giants” in India History and their fight for independence. It also features other important figures, including Mother Teresa who you can see in the upper right hand corner of the top floor of the building.

SEPTEMBER 2, 2016 – Now as for our busy weekend it gets off with a roaring start! This afternoon we have the bible competition pitting the various religious communities against each other to see which one knows their bible best. This year the sisters communities will be on equal footing and not have a separate match but will compete instead with their male counterparts on an equal footing. Our team consists of three members from last year’s quiz whizzes: Brs. Mary Babu, SCJ (3rd year), Mahesh Gotikala, SCJ (2nd year), Meghanandha (Mega) Chakravarthy Bandanadham, SCJ (2nd year), plus Sajeet Pillai, SCJ, (2nd year) Moses Sayala, SCJ, (1st year) the team’s two rookies. While the event is scheduled to begin at 4:00 pm the actual contest won’t start for another hour or so.

This year the area of the scriptures to be covered is taken from the prophetic literature namely: Isaiah and Jeremiah (major prophets) along with the minor prophets Jonah, Zechariah, Daniel and Zephaniah: We’re only allowed to bring three fans to watch (last year it was open to all) I intend to go but don’t know if we’ll stay until the end as we must travel to Sacred Heart parish Vempadu in the evening.

Christu Dehon Nivas (CDN) has agreed to participate this school year in First Friday extended Adoration at Sacred Heart parish that tonight is schedule to begin at 7:30 pm and go until about 11:00 pm. Last month it really didn’t get started until around 8:30 pm so perhaps we’ll be able to finish the bible quiz as well.

Tomorrow, thanks to the fact that some of the students have an exam in the morning, our activities will be limited to class Masses in the evening. I will be doing it with the fourth year (there are six in the class). This is the group that will graduate in November with four of them waiting to learn their regency assignments while Tinu and Vinoth who have already had their regency will upon the vote of the council make their final vows on December 8, 2016, and then await the date for their ordination to the diaconate and their deacon assignment, usually to a parish for a year before priesthood ordination in 2018. I will actually celebrate two Masses tomorrow as I have the 7:00 am Mass with the Holy Family Brothers community as well.

On Sunday most of the brothers will go for their ministerial assignments in the morning. I believe all of the fourth year brothers have finished ministry work as they now turn their attention to preparing for their comprehensive exams in November (classes end next month). Most of the brothers will be back in time to watch the canonization of Mother Theresa that will be broadcast on CNN and BBC TV and I’m sure there will be some local channels televising it as well. I suspect we’ll watch it in English given the various languages spoken in the house.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned in a previous journal entry there will be an evening Mass for the religious of Eluru with Most Reverend Jayarao Palemero, bishop of Eluru, along with his predecessor Most Reverend Matthew Cherienkunnel, PIME, bishop emeritus._ No doubt this Mass will be very well attended and I pray we don’t have any rain.


SCJs come together in India

As we noted previously, Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, is back in his second home: the District of India. Below are excerpts from his recent journal entries:

Dancing seminarianAUGUST 23, 2016 –– Last night the seminarians put on a short “cultural program” as it is called here. In our old seminary days we’d call it a convivium, while some would call it a talent show. The grand finale was led by Obed Nag from Assam who, along with his three Assam companions, managed to teach the rest of the group one of their Assam dances. Fr. Alex recruited this group last spring on a visit to Assam and recalled his experience of attending an all night dance at a local festival. Regular readers of my journals have often heard me say that Indian men like to dance and many of them are quite good at it. Most Indian movies must feature at least one grand dance routine reminiscent of the American films of the late 1930s and 40s.

The show took about 45 minutes as it would be an early start for those of us traveling to the Don Bosco Center that is about an hour by car from the Dehon Joythi community. Frs. Thomas Vinod, SCJ, and Michael Benedict, SCJ, said they’d pick us up at 6:00 am.

I set my alarm for 4:45 am as Fr. Alex said he’d have breakfast ready at 5:30 am. I should have guessed what he meant was he’d have some of the students make breakfast. Sure enough, by the time I had packed and opened my door two of them were busy in the kitchen and dining room putting things together for the three of us to eat.

I must confess I was a bit surprised when we drew near the center as it is one of the last places one would think would make a good location for a retreat center. We are quite near the ocean and very near the port so the area is surrounded by many factories with lots of trucks pulling containers either filled with goods for export or coming back with imports.

Upon our arrival we noted there were no assigned rooms so it was hunt for an available room. I found one, or rather someone found it for me, and as I was getting settled in Fr. McQueen Winston Savio Mascarenhas, SCJ, came to tell me they had a air-conditioned room for me. As it turned out Fr. Pradesh Kumar Richard, SCJ, was occupying it but the others threw him out and handed the keys over to me. Sometimes age does have privilege!

We’re now half way through the first day. This morning we heard a presentation on the state of the district by Fr. Thomas and this afternoon Fr. Michael will do the same for the fiscal health of the district. This evening I am with a three-man team to prepare the Mass. We agreed I’d be the celebrant, Dn. Pinto will do the introduction and gospel and Fr. Suresh Gottom, SCJ, will give the homily.

Don BoscoAUGUST 24, 2016 –– We are now into our second day at the Don Bosco Youth Center. I chose this photo as it clearly shows the Tamil Nadu alphabet spelling out the phrase “Youth Animation Center.” One of the complicating factors for Indians and non-Indians alike is that often each language has its own alphabet. This one clearly differs from Hindi for example, and certainly Telugu as well, the language that I am used to seeing spelled out in road signs and advertisements along the highways in Andhra Pradesh.

We are not the only ones using the center this week; along with us is a group of young men who are on retreat though we only see them in passing as our two schedules are very different

Last night was the first night we slept here and many in our group of 36 were complaining of how hard it was to get to sleep as their rooms were very warm. Some of them took to sleeping in the outdoor corridors. Remember this being a tropical climate there is less a need for indoor hallways and most of the foot traffic is handled much like we see at motels in the US, i.e., a covered outdoor walkway connecting rooms and wings of a building.

Our days are full and generally run from 6:30 am with morning prayer and Mass to supper at 8:00 pm with the chance for some recreation afterwards with most people heading to their rooms around 10:00 pm. We don’t have internet access nor TV reception so folks are left to their own devices. Last night card games were popular.

PresentationMost of our sessions have been presentations and as we look toward the end tomorrow we are now hearing from each of the communities concerning their activities of the past year as well as an accounting by the local treasurer. What is a bit different from a typical assembly in the US Province is that the account books for each house are open for inspection by any member and will be available until 9:00 pm this evening.

Tomorrow we’ll bring the assembly to a close as we should wrap up around 5:00 pm. I will be traveling back to the district house as we have a district council meeting on Friday to review the results of our assembly gathering and to try and put the final touches on the six year plan that we need to send to the general administration.

AUGUST 25, 2016 – Yesterday we heard from the community houses, i.e., formation programs, concerning the activities of the past year along with their hopes and dreams for the coming year. This morning it was the turn of the parish communities to do the same.

It is safe to say that all of our parishes are poor and in some cases are parishes we are building up from scratch. Many of the parishes have pastoral as well as social needs that the parish team would like to meet. Since the district has very limited resources and is dependent on support from the general administration it will take creative thinking to meet those needs.

Small groupAll in all it was a successful gathering. Given the distances that separate various communities it is important to gather at events like this to renew the bonds of brotherhood that are so much a part of belonging to a religious community. It also was an excellent opportunity to hear firsthand from those responsible as to what is going on in the district and the ministries operated in the name of the district. There are lots of challenges pulling at the district but as I once read: “Every challenge is in reality an opportunity.”