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.

Mass

Mass

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!

Fat Tuesday in India

Taking a "Thank you" picture for the benefactor who donated the grill to the formation community.

Taking a “Thank you” picture for the benefactor who donated the grill to the formation community.

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes the following from the SCJ Scholasticate in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh (India):

Lent began at the stroke of midnight just about the time the brothers came up the drive from their night out on the town. The day started early with birthday greetings to Br. Vineeth, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Fat Tuesday. Since there are no local customs connected with the day before Lent we began our own last year. I did learn that there is a carnival in Goa just before the start of Lent lasting three days. I suspect that Portuguese influence can be credited with creating that local Goan custom.

Our own pre-Lenten doings lasted two days. It began on Monday evening with a barbecue prepared by Fr. Mariano. Originally this was supposed to take place when the novices and postulants were here for their cricket match but that didn’t work so instead it was scheduled for Monday evening. It marked the inauguration of the community grill, a gift of a friend of Fr. Mariano’s from Germany.

Our meal was delayed by about 30 minutes while the charcoal was being made. No bag of charcoal from the local 7-11 or supermarket chain! Instead, some of the brothers used excess wood to make their own. Of course rice was featured along with grilled beef and grilled tuna. It took some doing but Fr. Mariano finally found mayo in Vijayawada which he used to make a tuna salad as well.

Fat Tuesday began with a birthday cake!

Fat Tuesday began with a birthday cake!

You might say the barbecue was a warm-up to Tuesday’s doings. That, as already noted, began with the breakfast birthday greetings to Br. Vineeth along with the traditional cutting of the cake with the house superior feeding a morsel to Vineeth and he in turn to Fr. Mariano. This is a wedding custom in the States but here it is done on many special occasions.

In the evening we all squeezed into our minivan, jeep and bike to head off to the Pizza Company, the only pizza joint in all of Eluru. We began this custom last year as a way of celebrating Fat Tuesday: pizza and ice cream!

While we were waiting to get our tables the brothers lobbied Fr. Mariano that they should all go to the nearby cinema after dinner for the 9:00 pm showing of a Telugu film. With Lent starting in a few hours going to the movies would be out of the question and apparently it’s been a long time since last they set foot in the local movie house. So off they went, enjoying the last of Fat Tuesday celebrations before Lent would begin.

Despite the late night, all were up and at ’em at 6 am for morning prayers followed by a trip to the Brothers of the Holy Family where both communities shared the opening of Lent with Mass and ashes.

Novices, postulants and livestock

Indian students take a break from their soccer game.

Indian students take a break from their soccer game.

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India:

We are expecting the novices and postulants from Nambur this morning, but before the first batch arrived by train both our cow and pigs on the grounds were out rummaging for food. Our sow had nine piglets and she’s now down to 7 as two of them have been given to nearby communities. We don’t have enough land to support this many pigs so more will be given away. The sow is fed our leftovers (and usually there isn’t very much of that) and the Brothers of the Holy Family send theirs as well. In turn they get pork (or maybe a live pig) from our small herd — if that’s what you call a group of pigs a herd.

The first group of novices and postulants arrived about a half hour ago.They were supposed to arrive at the Eluru train station at 8:00 am, but were a bit late. I’m not sure from what station they left for our place as Nambur is a very small community so I’m guessing it was either Guntur or Vijayawada. The rest of the novices and postulants will be coming by car. There are 10 novices and six postulants. As the novitiate has only one minivan there is not enough room to bring them all by car. That is a problem for all our houses as vehicles are limited to usually one car and a couple of bikes. We’re fortunate in Eluru to have the 14-year-old jeep in addition to the house minivan.

Besides the pigs and cow we also have a flock of free range chickens. I’m not sure how many there are but enough that from time to time we enjoy home-grown chicken as opposed to chickens purchased on the open market. I usually know when it’s the house variety by the racket that takes place just before John, our cook, dispatches the bird of the day. Usually as well I’ll see some feathers not too far from the kitchen door where the unlucky bird met its fate.

The community cow tries to make a goal!

The community cow tries to make a goal!

Our one and only cow thinks it’s part human as it has no contact with others of its kind. If you let it on the soccer field it will butt the ball, but as far as I know it has never scored a goal.

Last year we also had a herd of goats but there just isn’t enough land (about six acres) to support them, and besides they tended to eat everything in sight, including Fr. Mariano’s vegetable garden. He has enough trouble trying to keep the cow from eating the grass he’s trying to grow.

At one time they tried raising fish here but it gets too hot in summer to keep the fish alive. That does not stop the community from eating lots of fish. Our freezer is now full thanks to this week’s trip to the coast. It should last us about two months. I haven’t’ met an Indian yet who does not like fish and probably prefers fish over meat. One advantage of eating with your hands is that it’s much easier to pick out the bones ahead of time. I’ve pretty much avoided fish because of the bone issue. Today we are supposed to have some grilled tuna in honor of our guests and I’ll give it a try.

Tattered breviary a fond memento of the Philippines

Fr. John Czyzynski shares his last two journal entries from the Philippines:

Fr. John

Fr. John

FEBRUARY 10 – On Saturday morning when I entered the chapel for morning prayer and Mass I received a surprise which I am going to treasure as a memento of my visit to our novitiate here in the Philippines. One of the dogs had gotten into the chapel during the night and played with my breviary the way they do with sandals they find. The cover has teeth marks on it and the additional leather cover had been thoroughly chewed. The ribbons were found on the grounds, two pages had sections torn out, but one of the novices found those missing pieces so I can tape them back together. I was going to buy a new cover when I got back to the States, but I thought and prayed about it and I have decided to keep the chewed up cover on my breviary. Whenever I pick up my breviary I will smile and pray for the guys in the novitiate at Padagian in Zambuango del Sur.

Later on Saturday one of the novices (Son James Nguyen – a familiar name to some in the US) held a day of recollection for 67 seventh graders (young people about 12 to 15 years old).  It started at 8:30 a.m. and went till about 4:30. The theme was “God is Love”.  He began by explaining to them what a day of recollection means.  He gave a presentation on ways to pray. Then he gave them questions to reflect on in the large group:  Who is God to you, who is Jesus to you?

He gave them questions/statements such as the following:  I love my parents because….I love my school because….I love God because …I love friends because…How do I make God smile at me?  I am happy because…. I am sad because….  The young folks reflected on these questions in silence till noon.

After lunch they gathered in groups of eight or so and shared what they had reflected on. They did that until 2:30 and then had a meditation period for about 45 minutes and closed with Mass.  Before Mass he had a short talk on repentance and reconciliation.  The kids seem to have had a great time.  It was great to see such good youth ministry going on at our novitiate here.  The kids had gathered at our parish down the hill from the novitiate and were brought up the hill in an open flatbed truck that had benches for them to sit on.   There must have been 30 of them at a time in the back of the truck. Reminded me of when Brother Conrad would haul us to Plymouth, Indiana. from Donaldson so we could catch trains and buses to go back to our homes for vacations.

On Sunday after Mass and breakfast Fr. Rico, Fr. Johannes and I headed to Cagayan d’ Oro where the house of formation is – the place that I spent my first two weeks here.  It feels like I am heading home.  It takes about five to six hours for the trip.  I noticed the guys here don’t use seat belts unless they are in town where they will get ticketed and fined for not wearing them (Johannes wears his when he takes a nap (no he was not driving!)  After going about two hours or so Fr. Rico pulled off the road at a restaurant and said what I heard as “cigar”. I thought he was going to buy a cigar to smoke as he drove.  What he said was “C.R.” which stands for “comfort room” which is what they call the lavatories here.

We had evidence of the Muslim presence in the area we were driving through. A caravan of about 50 or 60 cars passed us on the other side of the road. Every vehicle was decorated with yellow and red balloons on each side of the car. They said it was the wedding party of probably a pretty significant person in the area. That was a peaceful Muslim presence.

As we drove on there was a reminder of another kind of Muslim presence.  Fr. Rico said we were passing through the area where we SCJs were before, but after Fr. Beppe was kidnapped by a Muslim group the SCJs decided to move to safer areas.

Shortly before we got back to the house of formation we stopped for a visit at a huge shrine of the Divine Mercy (think Stockbridge, Mass, the Marian Fathers and our picture of the Sacred Heart, minus the mercy rays).  There is a statue of Jesus about 50 feet tall on the top of this high hill and the statue looks out over the valley onto the sea.  Very impressive.

A quiet week at Cagayan d’ Oro at the house of formation.  Most of the community is gone on the community vacation.  I am relaxing here before heading to Manila on Thursday where I will have some time with the post-novitiate group before returning to the US on Valentine’s Day.

 

phil-MMAP-md

 

FEBRUARY 13 – I spent Wednesday saying goodbye to folks at the Formation House at Cagayan d’ Oro and did my packing.  Since Wednesday supper was my last at Cagayan d” Oro we celebrated with pasta in addition to rice at the meal and ice cream for dessert.

Thursday morning Fr. Indra and I flew from Cagayan d”Oro to Manila (but not before a flurry of photos being taken by the students).  We were met there by a couple of the students who took us to our place.  It is located in the greater Metro Manila area (the NCR, the National Capitol Region as they refer to it) but the name of the area we are in is Quezon City.  We had some lunch and I unpacked and started repacking some stuff for the trip back to the States on Saturday.

cross_necklaceI had some time so I thought I would take a chance and visit a religious house I had passed when I was on my way to a parish where I offered Mass the second day I was here.  It is the convent of a group of sisters called “The Adorers of the Blood of Christ.”  I knew the group through Sr. Maria Hughes who was one of the presenters of an Intercommunity Novitiate session.  I rang the bell and a sister came to let me in the gate.  I said my name and said I was a Priest of the Sacred Heart, a Dehonian.  She said:  “I know.  I see your cross.” I was wearing the “mission cross” given to me by Juancho at a little ceremony our community had just before I left for the Philippines. Our young guys always talk about “branding”. I experienced what they are getting at.

Anyhow I had a delightful visit with the Sisters.  Our two houses are just around the corner from each other.  The Sisters know our guys so well.  They are involved in ministry with them and our guys gather to preside at Eucharist with them. I felt like I met women who were sisters of mine.

Back at our house I went down to the chapel for Evening Prayer and Adoration.  I was surprised to see everyone’s shoes lying outside the chapel.  No one wears shoes in the chapel, what was it that God said to Moses as he approached the burning bush?

Late Friday morning Fr. Indra took me to the shrine of Jesu Nazareno; I mentioned Jesu Nazareno before.  It is a figure of Jesus with darkened skin like one who has labored in the sun.  He is carrying the cross and is crowned with thorns, but he is wearing very festive garments.  They symbolize his victory over suffering and death.  There is a great devotion to Jesus here under this title.  Very popular with men.  The Church was packed.  Mass is being offered continually all day. We arrived just as Mass was ending. It was very moving for me to see the crowd — men and women and of all ages — standing with their arms raised singing and then clapping as Mass ended.

Friday evening I had a session with the guys who are in temporary vows. They responded very positively to what I was sharing.  Afterward they gave me a thank-you note and gift: a CD that Fr. Arthur (nickname:  Fr Totong) made.  He is the vocation director and has a great voice.

Fr. Indra was asked to have Mass tomorrow at a nearby parish.  The priest there is ill.  So I will have the Mass here and after breakfast Fr. Indra will take me to the airport.  I leave Hong Kong at 6:45 pm (their time) and arrive in Chicago at 7:15 (Chicago time).  So by the clock the trip will take a half hour, but in reality it is a 14 and 1/2 hour trip.

These have been wonderful days for me.  I feel I have been greatly blessed by the folks here and I feel God has used me to bless them.