As noted previously, Fr. Tom Cassidy has spent the past month with the theology community in Eluru, India. He wrote the following after a week’s retreat with the students:
I just returned from a pilgrimage with the postulants. When we met Friday evening as a group for the last time Fr. Vimal, SCJ, was kind enough to thank me for my presence not only for being on the pilgrim journey, but for the time I gave to the postulants. I filled in for him and taught class for four days early on in my stay at Eluru. He and the postulants gave me a small statue of Our Lady of Health as a remembrance of our time together. In turn I told the group this.
“Any first-year teacher, and I think Fr. Vimal will attest to this, will say: ‘You [postulants] have taught me much more then I have taught you.’ I can say the same I have learned much from you and am most grateful. Earlier I said, partly in jest, that in saying ‘yes’ to coming on the pilgrimage with you I might regret it. But I can say honestly that I have no regrets! It has been a wonderful journey for me — well I suppose the train rides leave something to be desired, but you can’t get here if you don’t take the train. Besides, I’ve now fulfilled Gandhi’s admonishment: ‘If you want to really experience India you must travel by train.’ There were many highlights for me, but certainly saying Mass at the tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle, ranks as my No.1 as he is my patron saint. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and know you are in my thoughts and prayers. If I have the opportunity to return next year I certainly hope to have time in the novitiate to see where each of you are on your spiritual journey and in discerning God’s will.”
We enjoyed our last meal together in one of the many small local restaurants. Fr. Vimal did something I like to do as each day: we ate at a different place giving us the opportunity to experience cuisine from the many styles that can be found in this vast country. A few even featured Chinese cooking on the menu. I suspectChinese cooking can be found almost anywhere in the world.
It took me a day or so to know that if you ask for a meal you’ll get rice and several kinds of curries and condiments to go with it. I opted for this style once but the rest of the time I went for a specialized dish such as egg chapatti.
We were informed that the train would depart at 10:15 p.m. and that we should be prepared to meet in front of the priest guesthouse at 9:00 p.m. I thought to myself “Good, it gives me time for a bath, shave and to finish packing.” I had just finished my bath and shave when there was a sharp knock on my door. Dressed only in a towel I met Fr. Vimal, who quickly announced: “Mega had the time wrong and the train will depart at 9:00 p.m., we need to hurry!” Luckily I had most of the packing done and I rushed as fast as I could to dress, pack and be in front of the guest house ASAP!
Now began what I can best describe as one of those scenes from an early Charlie Chaplin silent movie where the cops are chasing after the robbers in a typical Keystone Cop routine! With muster called and all present we rushed (fast trot you might say) with bags in hand or on our backs to the nearest motor- rickshaw stand. Fr. Vilmar, did his usual negotiations for three rickshaws and off we raced. I was in the first rickshaw with Fr. Vilmar and Manish (he usually traveled with us as he’s the smallest of the postulants). I think Fr. Vilmar got his message across to our driver as it was FULL SPEED AHEAD — well, as fast as a fully loaded motor-rickshaw put-put engine would carry us. Fortunately, the train station is not very far and we arrived with a couple of minutes to spare. I suppose with a bit of apprehension in each of our heads we waited for the other two rickshaws to come flying around the corner with the other eight postulants.
Wouldn’t you know it, the train was on track No. 2 so most of the postulants jumped down onto track No. 1 as it was by far the shortest way as we only had a couple of moments to spare!
I blurted out: “I can’t do this!” So Fr. Vilmar rushed with me across the overhead bridge as Jesu grabbed my bag.
At the last moment I said to myself “Go for it!” And so Fr. Vilmar and I jumped down and crossed track No.1 and luckily the doors on the cars were open on both sides and all managed to get on board with just seconds, or so it seemed, to spare!
Though I would have preferred to stay in second class with the postulants and Fr. Vilmar, he had purchased a ticket in a sleeper three-tier air-conditioned class. He was kind enough to take me to my bunk and I settled down for the night journey. We’d arrive in Chennai around 5:45 a.m. It was the last stop so I was told: “Don’t worry about getting off.” I was a bit anxious about that as trains do not make any announcements on station arrivals and depending on where you are in the car and tier arrangement you may or may not catch sight of a stop’s name.
My anxiety was well founded! At about 5:50 a.m. we arrived at what looked like Chennai and the station from which we departed Wednesday evening. Many people were getting off so I got off as well. I know my car was near the front of the train and the rest were somewhere behind my location. I started walking toward the rear a bit surprised I did not see anyone from our group. At about that moment from the window of one of the cars Libin called out:
“Father, this isn’t our stop it’s the next one!”
I got back on the train, this time in second class and road the rest of the way with the postulants. And that was the real end to our Keystone Cop experience!