Even the pencils get blessed!


St. Augustine Cathedral in Cagayan de Oro

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from the Philippines where he is assisting with English classes. Today he writes about celebrating Mass in a country where open-air churches invite not only human worshippers but birds and dogs as well.

This morning Francisco Chavez came to pick me up and drive me to the cathedral for the noon Mass. He’s a Filipino who actually lived for many years in Toronto and where much of his family are still located. I think he said they migrated to Canada about 40 years ago. He’ll be my driver for the next two days as I’ll have the noon Mass on Thursday and Friday as well as today. I was drafted in part because the noon Mass is an English-speaking Mass and perhaps more important, most of our community left either yesterday or this morning for the ordination of one of our young SCJs near Davao.

St. Augustine Cathedral is about a 15-minute car ride from our house and is in the center of town. It’s a big, very airy structure, as the climate would dictate. As a result, our large congregation (even though it was midweek the church was full) was joined by a much smaller collection of birds flying hither and yon. Didn’t see any dogs but they often appear in church as well. Last Sunday at Immaculate Conception, for example, there were at least three sleeping dogs (under pews) before Mass started.

After Mass, dozens of people come up to the the priest (or priests) asking for a blessing. Sometimes it is for a special occasion, such as a birthday or anniversary, or to deal with an illness or other infirmity. Other times it is just a request for a simple blessing. This happens in a Filipino church much more so than in the States. Today was no different; it probably took me 15 minutes to get back to the sacristy.

I was also asked to bless a large collection of religious articles. Perhaps the most unusual request came from a young man and woman who said they were taking an exam tomorrow and would I kindly bless them and a offer a special blessing for their pencils too?

On a different note, this morning we said farewell to our last two Filipino students, Edgar M. Abid and Marvin S. Dalapo, Jr. Tomorrow they take their final exam at Xavier University then they’ll head home for their vacation before returning for the fall semester. So as of tomorrow it will be the six Vietnamese and myself for the next 12 days of English classes before we wind it up and I head back to Manila.

In the Philippines

Vietnamese students

Vietnamese students relax before class

After several months in India, Fr. Tom Cassidy is in the Philippines where he is teaching English. He writes:

This morning I had my first class. There are six Vietnamese and five Filipinos. The Filipinos speak very good English and will only be in the class for a couple of days. Fr. Khoa said he wanted them to hear an American accent. They’ll be going on the Dehonian Youth Mission as are all those preparing to enter the postulancy program. The six Vietnamese have been here for almost a year and, I believe, have already passed their proficiency test for entrance into the university for their philosophy studies.

Cassidy in Philippines

The Dehonian Youth Mission is an annual event that involves our SCJ candidates as well as young men and women who give of their time in a week-long pastoral project. The also learn about our SCJ charism.

It is hot here but no where near as hot as Andhra Pradesh (India). For example, today’s high is predicted to be about 90 degrees, warm by US standards but certainly a lot more comfortable than what many Indians are currently dealing with. There is also a chance for thunderstorms later today. From what I’ve been told they could use the rain. I hope the rain comes before or after I take my walk.

On the way to the airport yesterday I asked Fr. Delio about the land our former superior general asked the region to buy in Manila for a future region/provincial house located more conveniently to the airport. He told me they have the land but no immediate plans to build as there are one or two other projects that are more pressing. One he mentioned is a retreat house. I mention this because several of the region’s programs are housed in the place that I am currently staying: (1) postulancy, (2) philosophy, and (3) the regional administration and fundraising offices. We also have Immaculate Conception parish nearby.


A new church blessed!

Velankani Matha Church  in Pedakakani, India

Velankani Matha Church in Pedakakani, India

Today Fr. Tom Cassidy writes about the blessing of the SCJs’ new church in Pedakakani, India, which took place on April 21:

The invitation said 5:30 pm, we all expected it to start at 6:30 pm, and once we got to Velankani Matha Church we were told that the ceremony really wouldn’t start until 7:00 pm as the stage crew was still putting the stage together. The church was too small to handle the crowd so the blessing would be in an outdoor Mass in a large field next to the church. I am not sure if it is church property or if it was borrowed for the evening. In any case, it was a nice spot, almost like a theater-in-the-round or an amphitheater.

The outdoor altar

The outdoor altar

Both Fr. Jesu and I were in the sanctuary with the bishop. Along with us were members of the district council plus Fr. Thomas Vinod, scj, our district superior. Back in the States you’d find the pastor up there as well but Fr. Dharma Raju Akula, scj, was busy behind the scenes making sure all would go according to plan while his associate Fr. Ravindra Moparthi, scj, directed the choir and musicians. I’m sure for both of them it was a bittersweet evening as the two have been transferred. Dharma will come to the US to study mass media and Loyola University in Chicago and Ravindra will become as assistant priest at Divine Mercy Parish in Vasai (Mumbai).

This being Andhra Pradesh the language of the Mass was Telugu. I could not understand Bishop Goli Bali’s homily but I was told afterwards it was a good one.

The church was lighted for the celebration

The church was lighted for the celebration

While I had expected to start at 7:00 pm according to our revised plan we actually began the procession to the stage at about 6:40 pm. Our first stop was the church so Bishop Goli Bali could bless it and cut the ribbon. The church is certainly very Indian in its design, colors and homage to the saints (both inside and outside the church). And plenty of lights for the evening, as well as fireworks.

The Mass finished around 9:15 pm. I’m pleased to report that the weather gods blessed us all last evening. We had a cool, gentle and persistent breeze and with the sun down, it was actually like being in mid-summer Milwaukee waiting for the Independence Day fireworks. Significant Indian events always include lots of fireworks and firecrackers.

Also standard is the need to feed any and all who come to the celebration. The usual custom has the priests and sisters going off to be seated and served by male members of the parish. The bishop eats in a place right next to where the priests and sisters are seated. I was all set to eat with a couple of Indian priests (one whom served for a time in the Springfield, Illinois Diocese) but got drafted to dine with the bishop. It was a party of three, my Springfield priest and I dined with His Lordship (the proper title in India for a bishop).

The church in the daylight, just prior to its completion

The church in the daylight, just prior to its completion

Both Frs. Dharma and Ravindra were our servers. I don’t know if we had the same food as served to the others but I really enjoyed the mutton. The few times I’ve been out in a restaurant I always order it as we never get it at home. Now I should point out that when Indians say “mutton” they really mean “goat” as lamb/sheep is very expensive. In fact mutton is on the menu for the celebration of First Professions on May 1. To use a biblical expression: “Fr. McQueen is going to kill the fatted calf (goat)”.

My cameramen for the evening were two of the novices who will make their first profession on May 1st. Chitti Babu Nandipamu and Maria Pavan Kumar Bandra Nadham. Between the two of them they took 300 photos. I ran into Chitti heading toward our car for a ride back to the novitiate and since he was still eating (using his hands in the Indian style) I said don’t bother with my phone, you can give it to me when you get back.

In bed I chuckled to myself, realizing that Chitti still had the phone; he was going to be in for a surprise when the alarm goes off at 5 am. As it turned out it was Fr. McQueen Winston Savio Mascarewhas, scj, who came knocking at my door at 5:00 am with a chiming iPhone.

Remembering those who came before us

Mausoleum flowers

Fr. Stephen Huffstetter, SCJ, our general councilor in Rome, writes about a recent visit to the city’s main cemetery, Campo Verano. Approximately 20 SCJs are interred there, including two former general councilors. Fr. Steve writes:

Since my days of parish ministry in South Dakota I have developed great appreciation for visiting cemeteries. When our Vicar General, Carlos Enrique Caamano Martin, invited me to go along to Campo Verano, Rome’s main cemetery, I was delighted to accept, and wondered what I would find. When I asked at table if anyone famous was buried there, one of the Italians remarked that most of the famous people are buried in churches!

We traveled by the city’s light rail line, my first time aboard. The trip takes longer than the underground metro, but allows for a scenic tour of the city. We passed many diverse neighborhoods, monuments, museums and parks.

Our first stop was the Church of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura (outside the walls). The ancient church is much simpler than the gilded Baroque churches. There are of course beautiful pieces of art and mosaics. Here St. Lawrence was martyred by being roasted alive. A blood stained stone slab where his body was laid is preserved as a sign of his suffering and his faith. Near the altar was a picture depicting the grill he died upon. In addition to crucifixions, the authorities of the day were perversely cruel in their instruments of death.

Carlos E and mausoleum

Fr. Carlos Enrique in front of the SCJs’ mausoleum

Outside the church at the cemetery entrance were rows of flower stalls, where vendors offered visitors the opportunity to purchase a bouquet to honor their loved ones. Campo Verano is several miles across, a city in its own right. The size and scope of the artful statues, the chapels and mausoleums absolutely astounded me and exceeded every expectation. When I saw the monuments that were the size of small houses, the scripture passage that came to mind was of the man Jesus cured who was living among the tombs, because someone actually could in a place like this. Smaller spaces for graves ringed the outside wall, with ladders strategically placed so visitors could add flowers and decorations to the highest areas.

The first section we came upon had porticos and frescos as lovely as any I’ve seen. The cemetery goes back 200 years to the time of Napoleon. One large monument commemorated the Roman Jewish victims of the Nazi Deportation. While the cemetery does hold its share of people mentioned in history books, this is mainly about the everyday people of Rome, who built the city, made it work, lived and loved, dreamt and struggled and now lie in a state of eternal rest.

Carlos Enrique led the way to our mausoleum, which held a small altar in a glass enclosed room in front of a mosaic of the Good Shepherd. Two of our Superior Generals, Fr. Lellig and Fr. Govaart, are buried here, along with 17 others who have died at the Generalate.

We opened the glass doors in the front and climbed down a steep ladder, looking at the stone slabs marking the places of our beloved dead as we descended about 30 feet. While I was looking at the names and dates on the stones, Carlos Enrique snatched a broom from the corner and handed it to me. It then dawned on me that it was our responsibility to clean and tidy up, which I did with a joy and prayerful spirit. As St. Benedict was fond of saying, “Ora et Labora.”

When I was making my good-bye rounds in the US last July, I realized there would be some members of the province I might be seeing for the last time, and that has proved to be the case. One of the adjustments to life in Rome is missing the chance to be with community when we celebrate a funeral liturgy and celebrate and remember the life of those who have shared so much with us along the way. I pray for all who have gone before us and built the foundations for what we are now able to do.

A room blessed and new possibilities opened

New sewing machines ready for classes in India

New sewing machines ready for classes in India

Fr. Tom Cassidy wrote that on March 31st SCJs in India blessed a newly finished classroom next to the community house in Vemapdu. The house has been under construction for the past few months but is also close to completion.

The classroom came about, wrote Fr. Tom, when  “Fr. Jojappa Chinthapalli  decided that he had sufficient funds to construct a small structure (he calls it a shed) to provide instruction to local girls and women in sewing. In addition to the sewing machines there was enough space to install a couple of computers that will be used by Fr. Suresh Gottom to teach computer skills to the youth of the parish.

Fr. Tom cuts the ribbon while Fr. Thomas looks on.

Fr. Tom cuts the ribbon while Fr. Thomas looks on.

“The blessing was about 40 minutes behind schedule by the time it got underway. Many of the women, and it was mostly women and girls who showed up, had to come from work and would have been hard pressed to arrive at the stated time. We weren’t going anywhere so the delay was taken in good stride by all. Fr. Jojappa promised to take us out for pizza afterwards. The ‘we’ in this case were Fr. Thomas Vinod (district superior), Fr. Michael Benedict (district treasurer) and Fr. Anthony Sundar Raju Maallavarapu, who was kind enough to drive us to Vempadu from Eluru.

“Fr. Thomas did the bulk of the prayers. I did the reading and the ribbon-cutting. It was a simple ceremony very similar to a house blessing. The ladies all seemed happy and eager to get started. I was introduced to one of the two women who would be teaching the classes. As you might imagine, finding employment of any kind in rural India, or for that matter almost anywhere in the world, is not easy. Hopefully the skills learned in these sewing classes will be of some help, not just in employment, but in providing clothing for many families.”

Many local women took part in the blessing of the new classroom

Many local women took part in the blessing of the new classroom

Celebrating Triduum and Easter in India

Pilgrim 9

The “Pilgrim Nine”

The following are excerpts from Fr. Tom Cassidy’s daily journal covering the days of Triduum through Easter Vigil:

MARCH 24 – This evening we will join the Holy Family Brothers as we begin the great three days of the Easter Triduum starting with Holy Thursday’s Mass with its rite of the washing of the feet.

Mariano leads way of cAfter Mass and supper nine brothers will be walking 40 kilometers (24.8 miles) to the Gunadala Matha Shrine on the outskirts of Vijayawada._ They’ll leave after our evening meal, departing sometime after 8:30 pm. According to Br. Jesu Prasad Siddela, scj, it will take them between 12 and 15 hours. The brothers are all going barefoot. Pilgrims, both Hindus and Christians (and I’m going to guess Muslims as well) make pilgrimages in bare feet. This is done on a short journey or on even much longer ones than the 40 kilometers our brothers will be walking tonight.

Here at Christu Dehon Nivas we kicked off the Easter Triduum last evening with the outdoor Stations of the Cross. Several of the brothers constructed a large wooden cross that the brothers and Fr. Louis Mariano Fernandes, scj, (our rector) took turns carrying from station to station. As Fr. Mariano wanted to take his turn carrying the cross he asked me to lead the stations.

MARCH 25 – After supper last evening we wished our nine pilgrims well as they began their 40 kilometer hike to Gunadala Matha Shrine. It’s now going on 11:00 am on Good Friday and since we have not heard anything we can presume that no news is good news since Br. Jesu Prasad Siddela, scj, has my iPhone and can call if they need assistance.

Pray before crossThrough the kind services of our novice master, Fr. McQueen Winston Savio Mascarewhas, scj, a community of sisters near the shrine has agreed to put our pilgrims up for the day. They’ll return tomorrow by bus and as our Holy Saturday service does not begin until 10:00 pm they’ve got plenty of time to make their way home.

Our Pilgrim Nine were not the only ones walking today. This morning the Carmelite community of the Edith Stein Monastery organized a walking Way of the Cross. Many of the religious communities, both men and women religious, chose to participate. Our local bishop, Jaya Rao Polimera, also took part, giving a brief opening meditation and prayer and then doing the same at the conclusion of the stations in front of the Carmelite chapel.

The stations began with someone dressed (including long hair, beard and crown of thorns) carrying the cross and from there, various individuals, including our own Fr. Mariano, carried it from one station to the next. The distance from the Holy Family Brothers to the Carmelites is about two miles (3.21 kilometers). It took us just over two hours to complete the journey.

MARCH 27 – Fr. Mariano and I, plus four of the brothers, took part in the Easter Vigil Service with the Holy Family Brothers community. The rest of our brothers were dispersed, a few at their ministry sites with the majority participating in the service at Amalodbhavi Matha Cathedral in Eluru.

Procession SatAfter the blessing of the fire and Easter (Pascal) Candle we processed to the room used on Holy Thursday for the altar of repose. Here we would hear the Exsultet, The Great Easter Proclamation, sung before the Easter Candle. I look foreword each year to this beautiful song, and especially its lyrics.

Next in the liturgy are the Old Testament readings recording the history of salvation starting with creation. From there we again processed to the chapel but before entering we would hear, or better said “watch,” the Holy Family postulants for a second time act out the testing of Abraham (Gen. 22:1-18). For the young seminarians this is one of the highlights of the evening. After a fine reenactment (especially by lamb and donkey!) we all proceeded into the chapel where the rest of the liturgy took place, including the renewal of our baptismal vows.

Following the service we were all invited for cake and soft drinks. I was asked to give a toast and what followed must be a house tradition. Part of taking a sip included four phrases that you might call a little ditty. What made it impressive was it was done in all the languages used in the house. I counted nine, starting with the common (house) language of English and then Spanish, the language of the Holy Family Brothers coming out of Spain, and on to at least seven Indian languages.



Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India:

St Joseph India

A St. Joseph’s Day display in India

Just before we begin Holy Week the Church takes time out from the solemnity of Lent for a day of joy in celebrating the feast of St. Joseph. I was surprised to read this morning that devotion to St. Joseph really began in earnest only in the 16th century when the Church officially encouraged his cult, as St. Joseph began to figure as an ideal ‘provider and protector of the Holy Family. Pope Pius XII added a second feast that of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1st._

We have four members of our community named Joseph, but at least one of the brothers is named after an Indian Joseph who is venerated but I don’t think has been beatified, i.e., Br. Mahesh Gotikala, scj (1st year). Actually I would not have known he was a Joseph as the Indian District personnel directory does not list his Christian name.

Many of our brothers do not use, or certainly do not list on any official document, their Christian baptismal name (if they have one). It is harder to do work with the government if officials (especially those with strong Hindu basis) are aware you are a Christian. Names have also from time to time caused brothers grief in applying for a passport or driver’s license. It is very important that all your documents line up with the exact same name and any variance can cause difficulty.

I was made aware of some of the hoops Indians have to go through that I would never face. For example, when one applies for a passport and you give X as your home address the police will be sent to check that this is indeed your official residence. I know of at least one brother who was denied a passport because when the police came to his house he was not home and the neighbors (trying to be helpful I think) gave his nickname to the police officer and since it was different from what was on the officer’s sheet the passport was never issued.

Sticking with applying for a passport, Fr. Louis Mariano Fernandes, scj, had to go to Goa [where he is from] to apply for the renewal of his passport while all I have to do is fill out the form and mail it to the government passport center (if memory serves me it’s in Pittsburgh), or if I’m out of the country and it came time to renew I just go to the nearest US embassy or consulate.

Since the district council decided that third year theologians must get their passport and license the brothers all said “Let us do this at home as it will be much easier then trying to do it here in Eluru.” By the way, I will have to clarify for myself what is meant by license (motorbike or car). Not everyone in the district drives a car but almost every house has a need for at least one car. Certainly at a minimum a license means the ability to legally drive a motorbike.