Vacation time is work time in India

Vacation days for the SCJ students in India often mean work days!

Vacation days for the SCJ students in India often mean work days!

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from the SCJ scholasticate in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh:

With this being vacation time the scholastics spend more time at work, and work right now it is concentrated on the front drive and small plots of land in front of the refectory for grass and flowers. Currently there are 10 students in the house though all but three of them will leave next week to begin either their vacation or their 20-day pastoral experience. Some of the students who left on April 1 will return to keep the work force up. The returning group is splitting their ministry time from their vacation time. They began their ministry time helping out during Holy Week and with the Indian custom of house blessings following Easter.

After eight or ten years in the seminary system the students pick up all sorts of trades and skills. Some have learned a lot about electricity and technology, while others carpentry and masonry and still others cooking and hospitality skills. Some, given their physical size, are usually the first given work requiring strength — some might call that the grunt work!

Landscaping at the community house

Students at work

Fr. Mariano has spent lots of time over the past year or so working on the grounds. Right now he’s trying to level part of the front drive by removing the paving stones to even out the ground and then putting the puzzle back together. While this is going on Brs. Manu and Ajith, who have masonry skills, are building border areas for several small plots in front of the dining room destined to house plants and perhaps grass.

Sometimes when I think of India I think of headgear. If you mention the word “Sikh” almost everyone would picture in their mind’s eye the turban worn by Sikh men. Mention the word again in the same breath with India and some might think of the towel some men wear when they are working. While there are many reasons why a man would choose to use headgear, for example the Sikh using it for religious reasons, the hot Indian climate is inducement enough to warrant something to either offer protection from the sun or perhaps to keep sweat out of one’s eyes.

One of the drawbacks of work during the summer vacation season is heat. From about 10:30 am to 4:00 pm it is often simply too hot to work, or at least to work with any degree of enthusiasm. One of its few advantages on the other hand is that there are very few days where outside work is called off because of rain. Rain won’t be a problem until June or later depending on when this year’s monsoon season begins and, in any case, it won’t start until after the school year has begun and the time for work is greatly reduced.

There is one daily compensation enjoyed by the brothers, or at least by the sports enthusiasts among them, and that’s the nightly cricket match on television. The Indian Super League has begun play. The season lasts two months and features a set game that takes about three hours to play (a far cry from the Five Day Test Match!). Many of the major cities have teams consisting of Indian and international professional cricket players. Each team is limited to four foreign players.

The brothers each have their favorite team and since practically all of them come from small towns and villages their choice of team is often determined by what Indian or world star they admire. Last night Br. Franklin was the lone rooter for the Mumbai Indians in its match against Rajasthan Royals. Sadly for Franklin, to quote the Deccan Chronicle: “Mumbai Given A Royal Beating!”

As for me when I’m asked who do I follow? I tell them: Why Chennai, of course, we have a ‘house’ there!

Sacred Heart Devotion starts in the home

Shrine in a family home in India

Shrine in a family home in India

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India:

One of our students took this photo and it clearly shows the devotion his family has to the Sacred Heart; one of the pictures should be very familiar to North American SCJs. This little shrine is a feature of many homes and certainly of the few I have had the opportunity to visit. These are the homes of our students and it should not be surprising that faith plays such an important role in the life of the family and is the seed of vocations. Parents and grandparents are so important in the transmission of their faith to their children and grandchildren.

Sacred Heart devotion has a long and strong tradition here in India. The fact that our title “Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart” speaks of that tradition and devotion has been a positive influence on the decisions of many young men who join our community. Just as strong has been their awareness (or perhaps better to say, their growing awareness) of our SCJ charism as beautifully expressed in #31 of Our Rule of Life:

“This mission, for Father Dehon in a spirit of love and oblation, entailed Eucharistic adoration, as an authentic service of the Church (cf Notes Quotidiennes, 1.3.1893), and ministry to the lowly and the humble, the workers and the poor (cf. Souvenirs XV), to proclaim to them the unfathomable riches of Christ (cf Ephesians 3:8). With this ministry in mind, Father Dehon gave great importance to the formation of priests and religious.

“For him missionary activity was a privileged form of apostolic service.”

“In all this his constant concern was that the human community, sanctified in the Holy Spirit, would become an offering pleasing to God (cf Romans 15:16).

Good Friday in India

Jesus falls for the first time

Jesus falls for the first time

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from our SCJ scholasticate in Eluru, India

For Good Friday six of our brothers plus, John our cook and his wife Rahka, came with me for the Stations and liturgy. The other four brothers opted to go to the cathedral in Eluru for their Good Friday prayers and devotions. Since tonight’s Holy Saturday vigil begins late (10:00 pm) we’ll all be going over to the Holy Family Brothers house. I was the celebrant at the Good Friday service so Fr. Gustavo, a Spaniard, will be tonight’s principal celebrant.

Things were rather quiet around our house as the brothers observed Good Friday; a number of them fasted, skipping both breakfast and lunch. Our supper (following the Good Friday service) was their Friday penitential meal, as I like to call it. It’s a dish of watery rice and curd. I opted for a repeat of breakfast, i.e., peanut butter augmented with mayonnaise.

good Friday India 2The brothers’ high school students did a pretty good job of giving a dramatic presentation of The Way of the Cross. It took us about 45 minutes to make our way around their athletic field finally ending up near the entrance to the chapel as we laid Jesus in the tomb.

From there it was my turn to guide the community through the Good Friday service. From the start of the stations to the conclusion of our Good Friday liturgy took just about two hours. This evening service promises to be just as long, if not more so depending on how many readings Fr. Gustavo decides to use, it could be as many as nine, we’ll see…

Our own SCJ brothers spent most of the week working outside so it was suggested this morning that work be devoted to cleaning the house for Easter. I thought it a good idea and off the brothers went to work, including cleaning my room. I escaped to the small community room on the second floor with my iPad to continue reading.

Shortly after settling in for a good read Br. Martin, SCJ, came to say that the Holy Family Brothers were downstairs. Indeed their entire community of high school students, aspirants, postulants, novices, and professed brothers were on their annual Holy Saturday pilgrimage. Since we are the closest house to them we were their first stop as they began to pray the rosary. From here they will visit a number of other religious houses on their pilgrim’s journey.

For now the rest of our day will be spent quietly waiting for this evenings Holy Saturday Vigil to begin.

Visiting with seniors in Nambur, India

Students serve the seniors their meal

Students serve the seniors their meal

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes about a recent visit with students to a residence for seniors in India:

Yesterday we went to St. Joseph’s Home for Seniors run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Our priests frequently say Mass here though there are two retired Indian priests living in the home; both are ambulatory and one kind of acts as the daily chaplain to the residents. The vast majority of the 85 +/- residents are Hindu with maybe about 20 to 25 actually being Catholic. Traditionally Hinduism is a very tolerant religion though their now exist a fundamentalist wing that does not look kindly on other faiths. I would say the residents come from the tolerant majority as they attend the Catholic services, pray the rosary in common, etc. This is not the first time I have heard that Hindus like coming to Catholic liturgies and frequently attend major feats such as Christmas and Easter.



Our Mass was scheduled to begin at 4:30 pm and because of that the first group left the house at 3:30 pm. Nambur has the same transportation problems as Eluru in that with only one car (van) it can’t possibly carry the entire community at the same time. I opted to wait for the second group as it would mean less downtime waiting for Mass to begin.

By the time we arrived and things got sorted out it was about 4:45 pm when Mass began. It was held outdoors just next to the main entrance. Fortunately, the way the building is situated and with the vegetation that surrounds it the temperature was very comfortable. It helped that their was a slight breeze as well. I’ve quipped a couple of times: India would be a very comfortable place to live if it was in the shade all the time.

Our own Fr. Sunder, SCJ, was the main celebrant joined by Frs. McQueen, SCJ, Christy, SCJ, and Marianand, SCJ, plus the two retired priests from St. Joseph’s. Fr. Marianand led the choir, which consisted of our novices who speak Telugu. That’s also why Fr. Sunder was the principal celebrant as he is from Andhra Pradesh and Telugu is his native tongue.

The Mass took just under an hour as Fr. Sunder kept his homily to around 15 minutes keeping his audience of senior citizens in mind. Obviously I did not understand a word of it, but I too was grateful for its length. I must say though, I’ve gotten use to sitting and thinking to myself for 30 to 40 minutes while the preacher goes on in one of the local languages.

Happy dining!

Happy dining!

After Mass ended the next task was to get all the residents heading inside and towards the dining room. St. Joseph’s is a complete facility and they have a wing for those residents who need full-time care and cannot take care of themselves. We didn’t spend anytime with that group though one of the sisters who works on that wing encouraged Fr. McQueen to include them next year when the novices come for St. Joseph’s Feast Day.

Actually, several of our novices told me they come to St. Joseph’s from time to time to put on shows for the residents. The home as a small auditorium with a stage that lends itself well to putting on a performance. I asked Jesu if they do dance routines (he’s one of the better dancers) and he said yes and sometimes they get the residents involved as well. In that case they do what here is called an action dance. Some of you might be familiar with these as ice breakers with youth groups or other such gatherings if not think of the famous chicken dance and you get the idea.

Fr. McQueen told me we would eat with the sisters following the residents’ meal. A number of us were sitting out in front shooting the breeze when one of the sisters came to Fr. McQueen to remind him part of this annual event included the novices helping to serve the residents.

While Fr. McQueen may have forgotten not all of the novices did for when I tagged along with the slackers we found four or five of the novices already hard at work (two more were in the scullery helping with dishes).

The dining room serves both men and women though it seemed to me most tables were either all men or all women but I was not really paying too much attention to that. Of course rice was an important component of the meal. The favored drink was buttermilk which, according to Indians, helps cool you down. It will be a standard drink until the rains come. Once the residents finished their meal and were off and about their merry way we all gathered back out in front by the main entrance to enjoy our own evening meal with the Little Sisters.

They put on a pretty good feed for us including a cake, fruit cocktail and topped off with ice cream. If anyone starved it was their own fault. Conversations ebbed and flowed in one director or another but one question kept popping up from group to group: I wonder who won the cricket match? — Happy to report India by 109 runs!

cream. If anyone starved it was their own fault. Conversations ebbed and flowed in one director or another but one question kept popping up from group to group: I wonder who won the cricket match? — Happy to report India by 109 runs!

At the novitiate in India

The novitiate cat

The novitiate cat

The day starts early in the novitiate with rising at 5:00 am, that’s about a half hour earlier then Eluru. In part it’s the result of having a half hour meditation at 5:30 am before 6:00 am morning prayers followed by Mass at 6:30 am. At the moment I’m the only priest in the house as the novice master, house treasurer and the two priests assignedto our nearby Sacred Heart parish are all on this week’s retreat. Since that’s the case our morning Mass crowd more then doubled from the norm. One of the priests from the house staff usually says Mass at a nearby convent so this week while the retreat is going on they walk over here to our chapel for Mass.

The convent is a house for aspiring sisters, their equivalent of our postulancy program. I must say their habit added a lot of color to our prayer gathering. The Asha Deepam Sisters (Aloysius Gonzaga Sisters)dress in a habit typical of an Indian women. I’ve noticed a number of Indian woman’s communities have adopted this style of dress and it may be they are communities founded here in India though I’m sure that’s not true for all groups.

Speaking of religious, the other day I was reading an article that pointed out that India is fast becoming the religious capital of the world. I’m not sure just how many men and women religious there are in In India in addition to the diocesan clergy. I do know the Indian Jesuit community has now passed the US as the largest single national group within the Jesuit community.

This morning at Tiflin I asked Jesu if he (the novices) are counting the days. Their first profession is on May 1st. He laughed and said not always, but then let me know there are now 45 days to go! Counting these closing days did not surprise me. The novitiate year is a once-in-a-lifetime experience but it’s a stage in life not meant to last. The novices have been at it now for just about a full year. The district has their novices enter at the end of March or early April so that in effect the novitiate year is 13 months long when the legal requirement is for one full year (365 days).

There are 10 novices in this group, which makes it one of the bigger novitiate classes, at least in the last few years. Next year there will be six and I think they are planning for seven new postulants. It won’t be much of a change for the new novices as they’ve spent their postulancy year right here at the novitiate under the direction of Fr. Christy Peter, SCJ.

While they were housed in the same complex their schedules were very different. For example, the postulants ate their midday meal at 12:00 pm and the novices at 12:30 pm. In part it had to do with the novices eating both breakfast and their noon meal in silence while the postulants were not under the same restriction.

A novice during the 2014 retreat

A novice during the 2014 retreat

This morning our classes on Our Rule of Life began. I think they are pretty well organized with the novices doing much of the work with the materials I have given them. I have to thank Fr. Jim Schroeder, SCJ for most of my materials. Jim has an intimate knowledge of Our Rule of Life having been at some of the chapters that worked on the text and then being responsible for the translation from French to English of the approved edition as well as seeing to its initial printing. He has also done some very good research into the history of the Rule as well as to its theological underpinnings.

Since the novices eat in silence for both breakfast and the noon meal I’ve decided to use his little booklet “A Safari in our Constitutions,” which Fr. Jim based on a retreat he gave to our SCJs in South Africa. We’ll begin that tomorrow morning. For today’s meals we listened to an hour lecture from “The Teaching Company” taken from a course by Robert Garland called The Other Side of History, or how the common man lived from pre-historic times through the middle ages. One of his last lectures describes the typical life of a pilgrim, especially in England. I thought we’d begin this way since on Sunday we’re going on a day-long pilgrimage to a Marian shrine. I did a four-day pilgrimage with this group to the shrine of Our Lady of Health at Vailankanni about this time last year.

I’m including two snapshots taken last year on our Lady of Health pilgrimage.

On retreat in 2014

On retreat in 2014

On retreat in India

Retreatants with Fr. Martin (seated next to Fr. Tom, who is on the far left)

Retreatants with Fr. Martin (seated next to Fr. Tom, who is on the far left)

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes about his past week on retreat with members of the SCJ community in India:

The retreat ran from Monday ,beginning with adoration, and ended on Saturday with an 11:00 am Mass. There were 15 of us making the retreat for SCJs living in Kerala, though a few came from Andhra Pradesh, and the two cities of Chennai and Mumbai. The retreat was led by Fr. Martin van Ooij, SCJ, whom I consider the founding father of our Indian District.

During my first term on the General Council Indonesia was part of the congregation that fell under my purview. In 1994, when we decided to begin our Dehonian presence in India upon the invitation of an Indian bishop from Kerala, it was important to find someone to spearhead our efforts. It would not be an easy task and could not follow the very successful model the congregation developed in the Philippines due to the difficulty of foreign missionaries entering the country. Fr. Martin was a Dutch missionary working in the diocese of Lampung and by all accounts was just the man who could pull it off.

Fr. Martin often recounts the meeting our general superior (now Bishop Virginio Bressanelli, SCJ) and I had with him asking him to take up this challenge. On our flight from Bangalore to Vijayawada this morning he told me the Indonesian Provincial Council was reluctant to let him go but he convinced them it was just as important for Indonesia to allow him to do this as it would be for the success of our Indian endeavors. Over the ensuing 20 years many SCJs came and went due to various issues from denial of visas to difficulty coping with the food and climate among other things. But one of the constants was Fr. Martin until his visa was revoked by the Indian government in, I believe, 2011.

He still keeps his finger in the pie and enjoys tremendous respect from our young Indian SCJs.

I would add that four SCJs who have died and spent considerable time in India are also well remembered and respected. Two of them are very familiar to American SCJs: Fr. Thomas Garvey, who died in India following an operation and Fr. Thomas Fix, who also was a missionary for many years in Indonesia and died of cancer several years ago in his beloved Indonesia.

Retreat house

Retreat house

The retreat center, or Atmadarshan, is attached to the Sacred Heart Philosophical College run by the Carmelites (and where our SCJ philosophy students take their courses) and is located along the banks of the most important river in Kerala. It is a nice quiet oasis in the middle of the bustling city of Aluva.

Though on retreat I did continue my daily walks. One can meditate on the move just as easily as when in a fixed position. I did, in deference to the request by Fr. Martin that we shut off all modern means of communications, do my walks listening to my own inner voice rather then that of an Audible Book, my usual daily walking companion.

At first I walked along the main street not far from the campus but soon enough found a warren of back streets that were quiet and well suited to a quiet and peaceful walk, to say nothing about being a lot safer then the heavily traveled main drag. My one disturbance on these jaunts was running into a number of our philosophy students coming out of their final exams (usually orals) and heading home. They have a two kilometer walk to a bus stop and then a five kilometer bus ride home

As for the retreat, it was a silent affair. We were asked to spend three hours in mediation and on the first night to fix the time and place where this would take place (I chose the chapel). In addition we each had two meetings with Fr. Martin. He held a very brief morning conference more or less stating the objectives (guidelines) for the day. It usually lasted 15 minutes. The afternoon conference lasted anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and was more practical in nature

Briefly, the theme of the retreat was “Consecrated Life,” since the Church is in the midst of celebrating a year dedicated to Consecrated Life. Before and after the retreat both Fr. Martin and I spent a couple of days at our Aluva philosophy house. I was glad for this opportunity as I have not spent much time there and it was a good chance to mingle with the students as their school year draws to a close.

The two of us left Aluva this morning at 6:30 am for our flight from Kochi to Bangalore and then from Bangalore to Vijayawada. With each flight taking about an hour and the layover in Bangalore, we landed in Vijayawada at noon. The ride from the airport to our Eluru house takes just under and hour and now I’ve got three days here before heading to the novitiate.

SH at retreat center India

Four SCJs ordained to the diaconate!

Bishop Gali Bali lays hands on each of those to be ordained.

Bishop Gali Bali lays hands on each of those to be ordained.

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes about the recent diaconate ordinations in India:

Saturday was a day of celebration, even though we are at the start of Lent. The reason for our joy was the ordination of four SCJs who, having completed their year of regency, and making their final (perpetual) profession of vows in December, were ordained by Bishop Gali Bali of the diocese of Guntur. This is at least the third or fourth time I’ve met the bishop. My first encounter with him was in 2011, for presbyterial ordinations at his cathedral and that, by the way, was the year of my introduction to India.

The ordination ceremony was slated to begin at 5:30 pm at our Gorantla minor seminary.It’s about a 20 to 30 minute drive from our novitiate house in Nambur. The ordinations were held there since all four deacons are from the state of Andhra Pradesh. That made it easy for family and friends to attend, as I believe all four are from around the Guntur area.

I know each of the deacons but not to the same degree. I am most familiar with Dn.Ravi Kumar Dasari who did his regency at our minor seminary in Kumbalanghi. Ravi was very helpful to me during each of my stays in his community. He wass the essence of SCJ hospitality in making me feel at home and a part of his community.

To a lesser degree I have spent some time with Dn. Kishore Thambi Babu who served at our other minor seminary in Gorantla. It was a good experience for the minor seminarians to see someone with whom they’ve lived and listened to for the past year advance to the order of deacon.

Dn. Suresh Gottam spent his regency at our Sacred Heart parish in Vempadu. Once he arrived in Vempadu it was possible for the district to establish a separate community from the seminary and made it much easier for Fr. Jojappa to serve the needs of the parish. The community is currently renting a house and, thanks to a large donation from our Northern Italian Province, is about to begin construction on a community house.

Finally there is Dn. Dumala Raju whose regency was at our philosophy house of studies in Aluva in Kerala (about a half hour from Kumbalanghi). While this is the first house I ever visited in India (2011) it is the one I’ve spent the least amount of time in and therefore am not as acquainted with the community.

Three of the deacons will soon get pastoral assignments in the diocese of Guntur. We currently have very few SCJ parishes and with Guntur being close to both Nambur and Gorantla (as well as only about an hour and half to two hours from Eluru) using local Guntur parishes makes sense. All four deacons will be assigned as deacons through Holy Week of 2016, after which their priestly ordination will take place.

Dn. Suresh, since he was already in a parish setting for his regency, will continue working in our Sacred Heart parish with Fr. Jojappa. While it is in the diocese of Eluru it is close to our other SCJ communities in Andhra Pradesh and close to his deacon classmates.

Gorantla students provided the choir for the deacon ordinations as well as all the typical"‘practical" things (such as serving the guests) that go into any celebration.

Gorantla students provided the choir for the deacon ordinations as well as all the typical”‘practical” things (such as serving the guests) that go into any celebration.

As for their ordination, it began almost on time. Once we priests and the other ministers and deacons lined up, our master of ceremonies for the day, Fr. Ravindra Moparthi from Nambur gave us what seemed to me to be a life history for each deacon. As practically all of the ceremony was done in Telugu I was not privy to what was said. But ever so often in each presentation I’d hear words like Kumbalanghi, Gorantla, Aluva, Nambur and Eluru so I figured he was telling us where and when each of the candidates studied and worked as regents.

There is an African expression that goes something like this: “You Westerners tell time, we Africans have time.” Not far off the mark in the sense that things in Africa and here in India are not rushed, and spending three hours at a deacon ordination, well that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

The music was provided by the students of Gorantla under the direction of Fr. Jijo Voice, who joined the Gorantla community last year, and Fr. Marianand Garargapu, the treasurer at the novitiate community in Nambur; and finally the keyboard was played by Fr. Abraham Lazar associate pastor at Divine Mercy Parish, Vasai (near Mumbai).

It took just over two-and-a-half hours from start to finish and then we all strolled up onto the roof where the meal for the community and guests was served. The Gorantla students were responsible for set up and serving it under the direction of Fr. Michael Benedict, district treasurer and a member of the Gorantla staff, The meal was excellent and gave me more practice eating with my hands.

As we had the ride home staring us in the face and ministry assignments for Sunday Fr. Mariano, six of the brothers and I piled into our mini-van and headed for home. We made it back just after 11:00 pm and soon I was in bed knowing 5:30 am would arrive soon enough, and it did!