An American in India

From August 8-22, 2011, Fr. Tom Cassidy, provincial superior of the U.S. Province, traveled to the SCJs’ District of India.  The occasion for the trip was the ordination of 11 Indian SCJs to the priesthood.  During his travels, Fr. Tom maintained the following journal:

Sacred Heart Ashram Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh

My Passage to India


When I accepted the invitation to visit India a friend of mine encouraged me to keep a journal of the trip and my impressions and experiences. What follows is the result of accepting that suggestion. There were two purposes behind this trip: (1) to participate in the ordination of 11 SCJs and; (2) to gain first-hand knowledge of SCJ India.

Our US Province has committed itself to financial support India, especially in these early stages of its development when so much time, money and energy has to go into formation, always an expensive activity.  In part the invitation to India was based on that support we have offered and continue to provide.

SCJs came to India around 1994. At that time I was a member of the general administration and participated in the decision-making process that paved the way for what exists today. A number of American SCJs gave of their time and talent in the early days of the district’s development. This year two of our brothers died suddenly while in the prime of their ministerial lives. Curiously, both Charles Bisgrove and Rick DiLeo were among those who had served in the Indian SCJ formation programs.

I hope these pages will prove of interest to readers who may want to learn a bit more about our Indian SCJ district. A few words of caution before you begin.

These are my own impressions as a traveler and part-time tourist; the impressions are seen through the eyes of an American SCJ. Not all you read here may prove to be totally accurate. I have tried to the best of my ability to get names, places and dates correct, and apologies in advance for any and all mistakes. Since this is an electronic document I do hope those errors are pointed out to me so that I can correct as many factual errors as I can.

Truly these are my first impressions and I kindly ask the reader to read them in that light. I have tried to be fair and honest and respectful as I sat down each day to reflect on what I had experienced. Again, I am  looking at SCJ India with American eyes.

India is a vast country with over a billion people and as such, it has and will play a greater role in the world, especially as its economy develops.  The church is a very small percentage of the population, but is at this moment in history a vibrant and dynamic church that stands in contrast to what is happening in much of the developed world. I hope these pages in part are able to capture that dynamism.

In closing I ask that you keep in your prayers our SCJ Indian District, its leadership and all its members both professed and those aspiring to become SCJs. There is certainly great opportunity for them, as well as many challenges to be faced now and in the years to come. In its few short years in existence the influence of Indian SCJs is already felt way beyond the boarders of India. I do hope and pray that influence will continue to grow and develop as time and circumstances allow. With that, dear reader, please read on…

Thomas Cassidy, scj
August 25, 2011

Sunday August 7, 2011 – From Florida to New Jersey to Mumbai

On the way to India

I began the day at the Omni Resort near Orlando having just finished CMSM’s national assembly. It was my last as president. During the last evening at our 5:00 p.m. liturgy I turned over the office to Abbot Giles Hayes, OSB, of Morristown, New Jersey. It was a wonderful three years, though as I have frequently said in the last few days it was more work (really more time) then I had anticipated. I will miss our national board meetings and the trip to Rome, but all good things do come to an end.

We had our banquet on Friday night and my parting gift is a framed image taken from St. John’s Abbey’s new illuminated scriptures, a work still in progress. I was very pleased to have received this as I have looked with envy at a number of these prints. Now just where to hang it in my new apartment remains to be seen.

My flight to Newark was scheduled for 2:55 p.m. I took the 10:00 a.m. shuttle which may seem a bit early, but I always figure I’m waiting at the airport just as I’m waiting at home or in a hotel. It turned out to be a good move. After checking in and getting to the gate area I noticed my flight was listed as delayed. I walked up to a gate where I thought the flight was going to Las Vegas. The staff checked their computers which did not show any delay. They called the local office and were told: It’s in anticipation of thunderstorms this afternoon. Storms are very common in Central Florida and they do take them seriously. That often can mean you can’t board the plane, or it won’t leave the gate, or it won’t come to the jetway while thunderstorms are in the area.

The bottom line was that I was booked on a flight leaving right then and there from this gate — it was not gambling town, but New Jersey this flight was headed for. That put me into Newark around 1:45 pm. Since I had an international flight the President’s Club was free to me. It gave me a chance to relax, do some work and get a shower in later in the day as I did my hour long walk in the airport.

Around 7:00 p.m. I strolled to gate 121 to get ready for my flight to Mumbai on Continental flight number 48. All went as scripted until we left the gate. Our pilot got on the mic as we stopped along a taxiway and said that there were storms up around Hartford and since that was our planned flight path we were on hold for now. Our hold lasted a little more than an hour and by the time that was done we needed to go back to the gate for more fuel and as it turned out, a new flight crew as they were now over hours. Neither the change of crew nor fueling seemed to take too long; however by the time our wheels were up we were well over two hours behind schedule. Our planned touchdown of 9:00 p.m. now looked more like 11:35 p.m. Oh well, what can you do?

As for the 15 hours in the air it wasn’t too bad. I had a bulkhead aisle seat right behind business class. The two meals we got were not bad — as one might imagine, Indian cuisine was the feature of the day. I’m not a great sleeper on planes, but I did manage to get some rest in-between three movies. My favorite was Water for Elephant; I had read the book several years ago and enjoyed it immensely. The movie follows the book rather well, but misses the great insights into old age the hero and narrator in the book gives us.

Well after three movies, two meals, a long delay, but a smooth flight we landed just after midnight on August 9, 2011.

August 9, 2011 – Kingfisher #3151

I was surprised at how much activity was going on in the airport at this hour. However the Indian lady next to me said a lot of flights come in late at night — in fact we would have been better off-landing at 9:00 p.m. as it is not that busy at that hour. However, getting through customs and passport control and picking up luggage really didn’t take all that long. Actually faster than what I have experienced in the United States and certainly Rome, were luggage in particular seems to arrive agonizingly slow.

Just before landing they showed a movie about what to do when going through customs, etc. I paid particular attention to local transportation. Actually, they have a rather good system as you pre-pay in the airport. The fee is based on where you are going, how many pieces of luggage you have and if you want an air-conditioned taxi. I did receive one big surprise when I tried to pay for the taxi ride.

The fair was 250 rupees (the Hyatt Hotel I was going to spend the night at is very close to the airport). I handed over a 10,000 note (the smallest I had) and was told: That’s not Indian Money. I replied; It certainly is. Well the man showed me the note and sure enough, Kevin gave me Indonesian rupees which won’t get me far in Indian. To add more insult to injury I could not exchange my Indonesian money for Indian money. I used almost all my US dollars to get the necessary funds to pay the taxi and give me some money for my stay.

I finally got to my hotel around 1:15 a.m. tired but not too tired as it was mid-afternoon back in New Jersey. I asked for an 07:00 a.m. wakeup call and was in bed by 1:45 a.m. after a nice hot and refreshing shower. As you might imagine 07:00 came around pretty fast! I took my second hot shower of the morning and repacked my two bags. Though I usually don’t eat breakfast I decided to treat myself two two fried eggs. Naturally a lot of food on the buffet tables were Indian, but they had eggs and bacon and all the trimmings for an American Breakfast.

I checked out of the hotel by 8:15 a.m. I did learn that I can spend a few hours at the hotel before my return flight on the 22nd. I will have about eight hours to kill between my flight to Mumbai and Continental departure (around 11:00 p.m. if memory serves me right). That would seem about right as the flight coming into Mumbai from Newark is scheduled to land at 9:00 p.m. and a two hour turn-around seems about right for an international flight.

So now I am on Kingfisher Airlines flight # IT 3151 flying from Mumbai to Cochin where my real Indian adventure begins. Flying time is two hours and we’re now about one hour into the flight. This is monsoon season so rain is to be expected. We had some coming in last night, but this morning it was only overcast when we left Mumbai. There have been a few bumps along the way but nothing out of the ordinary.

August 9, 2011 – Cochin

We have two houses not far from the airport. Dehon Vidya Sadhan and Dehon Jyothi. I am staying at Dehon Vidya. It is our house of philosophy. At present there are 33 students in three years of philosophy and an SCJ staff of three. I was met at the airport by Fr. Michael Benedict and Brother Alex John. Michael spotted me right away as he  looked me up on the internet. By the way, Michael told me he spent two years with Bishop Joe and John Strittmatter in South Africa. I asked Br. Alex what he was studying and he told me he is preparing to be a teacher and is studying history — one of my first loves as well.

The drive from the airport, oh by the way we got in on time, actually a bit early without dealing with any monsoon rains. We did have a few bumps along the way, but nothing out of the ordinary. One interesting thing I noted at all three airports I have used is the amount of security as well as the physical check of employees on the tarmac, men who do the loading and unloading of planes. India has a problem with terrorism born out of the conflict with Pakistan over the state of Kashmir.

On the ride to the philosophy house we saw many trucks parked along the side of the road waiting to pass through a check point. Michael said independence day would soon be celebrated and it is the usual practice to be extra vigilant in the run up to the celebration. I noticed the extra security at the hotel as well. There were a number of guards at a gated check point that checked the driver’s papers and gave the taxi a once over. In addition I had to go through an airport style medal detector and my luggage had to be x-rayed before I could get into the hotel.

I was warned about Indian traffic, but perhaps my time in Rome and other travels in Asia did not cause any panic on my part. Michael managed the traffic and roads quite well. Oh, I did see one cow in the road, and yes it had the right of way. It was laying down and showed no interest in any of the cars passing by.

Dehon Jyothi is a rented house not really too far from the philosophy house. If I were to compare it to the US Province it reminds be of Great Barrington or Victorville. It is a house for men who have their high school education, or even college work or degree and is to get them ready for the house of philosophy. In addition, the district has several minor seminaries, one of which we will travel to tomorrow for the first of two ordinations. I’m told it is about an hour from here. Currently Dehon Jyothi has 11 students who are accompanied by one priest.

The drive to the philosophy house maybe took about 20 minutes. There is a good road (four lanes) out of the airport and into town. The closer we got to our house the roads began to narrow. Along the way we passed a veiled woman and also heard the call to noon day prayer. I was told there are a lot of Moslems in this part of India. India is predominantly a HIndu country and culture, but with a large Moslem minority and a much smaller Christian and Catholic presence. I’ll have to check but I think there are around 30 million Catholics mostly in the south and most in the state we are in Kerala.

A couple of minutes before we arrived at our house we passed the Conventual Franciscan house. Michael told me the students earn their bachelor degree by the time they finish their philosophy. The degree comes form a state university and they receive a certificate in philosophy from Sacred Heart Philosophical College, run by the Discalced Carmelites. It was established in 1971.

Fr. Tom is welcomed by one of the formation communities

Getting out of the car I was told that the students had a little ceremony for me. It reminded me of my early days in formation at the Novitiate and Kilroe. The students presented me with a flowered lei made from jasmine. It had a beautiful aroma. This was accompanied by a song, in English that I could sum it up as our house is your house. When they finished I told them that I now know where Rick Dileo got his mantra: La rostra casa e la sua casa, something Rick would say to anyone visiting him at Our Lady of Guadalupe, or wherever he was stationed. Rick spent almost six months here in India when we were just getting started and he was doing a sabbatical. Rick spoke often of his days here and is well remembered.

When the students finished their song each one introduced himself to me. Hard to remember 33 names! However some folks were not new to me. Louis Mariano Fernandes was a student in Rome when first I met him; he and Michael are holding down the fort waiting for Tom Fix to return from his vacation.

In addition there are others who have gathered for this big occasion. Warjito, who served along with me on the general council during my second term and Paul Sugino, currently on the council, came from Indonesia, along with Aloysius Tri Mardani, who works in the minor seminary in Palembang. Last, but certainly first on my list, was Bishop Virginio Bressanelli, who will be the ordaining bishop tomorrow.

I had only a few minutes to put my room in order. With the number of guests in the house rooms are at a premium at the moment. I can’t complain and really enjoy the ceiling fan that is keeping my room cool. I was warned before I got to India that electricity is not always reliable — something I have experienced before. We had one brief shut off, but it only lasted a couple of minutes. When the fan runs it is pleasant, but I did note how quickly it heats up without it.

It’s now going on 6:00 p.m. (wouldn’t you know it the electricity just went off again). The students, or at least many, of them are playing soccer. We have mass at 7:00 p.m. and I have been asked to be the celebrant. Following mass we had supper and it was announced we would be leaving for the minor seminary at Kumbalanghy around 8:00 a.m. for the ordination liturgy that will begin at 10:30 a.m.

August 10, 2011 – Ordination Day

Our day began bright and early! Shades of the old seminary days: there is a bell system by which to follow the activities of the day. This is a manual system, i.e., one of the students is in-charge of ringing a hand bell to announce the coming day, or activity of the day. We were told the night before that the wake up call would be at 05:30, however our anxious bell ringer gave us all a 04:30 revelry! I didn’t mind as I was awake by then as my body clock continues to adjust to the time difference. For example right now I am writing this at the Chennai Airport waiting for a flight and the local time is 11:25 a.m., while back home in Milwaukee it is 12:35 a.m. I really do not feel much jet lag, but I am a morning person and tend to wake up around 05:00. In this part of the world the morning is the best part of the day as it tends to be at its coolest.

Well once the bell mixup got taken care of we were back on schedule and the first item of the day was morning prayer and adoration at 06:00 followed by breakfast. We had to be on the road by 08:00 to get to the church on time for the 10:30 ordination mass. The guests, both SCJ and family of Adjit were going to travel by bus. A few others would go in the house van and the remainder, most of the students, would find their way to St. George Parish in Kumbalangly. By bus it is about an hour-and-a-half. I can’t tell you if that’s in good or bad traffic as the roads seem to have lots of cars most of the day.

We had to walk about a block to catch our bus as our street was too narrow for the bus to use. It took me a while to figure out the constant use of horns, but though they make quite a racket they do serve a function. I’ve figured out at least two: (1) on the very narrow streets when coming to a blind spot honk several times to alert oncoming traffic your in the area; (2) when you want to pass give a toot or two to let the fellow in front know you’re coming around.

Getting organized before the ordination

Upon our arrival at St. George’s we were organized to greet the bishop, in this case our own Virginio Bressanelli who arrived by car shortly before the ceremony was set to begin. A band played, people clapped at the bishop got a lei to wear on his way to visiting. All the priests vested along with the bishop in a shrine chapel, actually more an open air chapel with a roof and three sides open to the outside. I was told along with Sugino I would be in the sanctuary. Two other priests would join us, one was the local pastor; the other I have no clue. However the role of the local pastor would be very important.

The mass was said in Malayan and since Virginio does not speak or even understand it the local pastor was the lead celebrant except for the ordination rite itself. That part was done in English. Our students speak English rather well, though at times their accents can make it difficult to understand — it’s a two way street as my flat midwestern accent caused some problems for them. The same cannot be said about everyone in Church. English is still an important language in India, but there are many others and there has been a drive for Hindi to become the common language, or that’s my understanding.

There were five men ordained today. Adjit is the one from Northern India and who’s family has been staying at our philosophy house. It was a three-day train trip for them to get here! I understand they are going to take advantage of it and spend a couple of days as tourists.

It goes without saying that the church was packed to the gills. The church has no pews, in fact has no chairs but is simply an open space where the people stand, kneel and sit. Consequently it can hold a lot more people the you think when looking at the church from the outside.

The choir was off to the right side of the sanctuary when looking out from the main alter. The concelebrants were seated on the left side of the sanctuary, and the concelebrants did have chairs to sit on. The choir did not have to be near me for me to hear as the loud speaker system was just that, loud. Though I did not understand a word of what was being sung the melodies were interesting and seemed to be a mix of western and Indian styles.

Virginio did a wonderful job with his English and was his usual warm self with the men to be ordained. He’s been a bishop in two dioceses in Argentina. When he finishes here he’ll have ordained more Indians then he’s managed to do in Argentina. He told me he currently has seven men in theology, but that’s a very small number given the need — don’t I know what he means.

Though he did not give the homily he spoke through action. At the end of the mass before the final blessing he knelt in front of each newly ordained and asked for his blessing after which he kissed his hands. That may not be as meaningful to American eyes, but believe me it went over big with the people. It is something, they said, they have never seen. Needless to say Virginio’s humility and warmth carried the day.

Following the three-hour ceremony we were treated to a lunch in the parish hall on the second floor of the church. It goes without saying it was an Indian Affair. Knowing there were a few of us Western folks in the hall we were advised what was hot and what they had prepared for our pallets. It was topped off with fruit and a small dish of ice-cream. The ice-cream was tasty with a higher sugar content then what we have back in the States, or Italy for that matter.

I finally met Fr. Thomas Vernod who is acting coordinator for the district. They are in the process of reorganizing themselves due to the government denying visa status to the past leadership. Like it or not, the Indian SCJs are called upon to step up and take charge. Sugino, as I understand it, will stay here for a month doing a consultation for new leadership.

For those not familiar with India it is very hard to get visas for religious purposes. If one uses a tourist visa the new regulations require you to be out of the country for a least two months before reentry. Americans do have a favored status in that you can get a five-year visa rather then a six months as I currently have.

Thomas took Virginio, Sugino and myself for a quick visit to our minor seminary. It is here one can really sense the influence Tom Garvey had on our Indian SCJs. He is spoken of highly and it would not be a stretch to say is revered. The study hall at the minor seminary is named in his honor. Thomas told us that Tom could be found every night in the hall with the students. I thought to myself he learned that trick at Donaldson where the prefects monitored the evening study hall. There is also a nice memorial and panting of Tom that graces the building.

We returned home about 4:30 p.m. and had a bit of time to relax before a roof top supper. Again there were two tables set up the hot food line and it’s ok for you to eat line. The meal was prepared by the students using food left over from the ordination lunch as well as a number of other dishes. Here too it was topped off with gelato. This one had an interesting flavor. It looked like blueberry ice-cream but had a different taste to it.

The day would not have been complete without the student-planned and run convivium. It was a shade again of bygone seminary days in the United States. The students put on a pretty good show. Dancing seemed to be featured. I must say that there are some pretty good dancers. The dances tended toward the modern but with some Indian twists to it as well. One was more in a traditional Indian style. It was the telling of the origin of the Indian flag and what the three colors stand for: Green – Islam; Orange – Hindu; White – Christian. It was a good history lesson, especially with Independence day coming up on August 15th (Indian was granted Independence on that day in 1947).

A little girl, from Adjit’s family also did a dance. I thought of my two great nephews, Ephraim and Thomas, who are about the same age and go to dance school. She did a nice job at her dance and received a well deserved round of applause.

Towards the end of the evening we foreign guests were presented with a shawl. It was a nice touch to a long but most enjoyable day. We ended around 10:30 p.m. which would again make for a short night. I set my alarm for 04:30 as I wanted sufficient time to pack and check my e-mails. I don’t know if I’ll have any more contact with the outside world from now on until I return to Mumbai on the 22nd to begin my journey home. There is a serious situation in the United that we have to deal with, but I am fortunate that Bill Pitcavage is there along with folks at the provincial office and they seem to have things in hand, at least to this point.

August 11 2011 – On the Way to Nambur

As I wrote just a bit ago I am in the Chennai airport waiting for our flight to Vijayawada. Tomorrow will see six more Indian SCJs ordained. We left the philosophy house at 06:30 for a flight from Cochin that departed for Chennai at 08:25. It was an hour and 25 minute flight on a two engine prop-jet. I think they call them ARJs and are made in France. We have plenty in the US for shorter routes. I’ve flown them from Newark to Ottawa and Montreal several times.

It will be a long day of travel! We landed here at around 09:45 and won’t leave here until 1:25 PM. I understand there is one stop before we reach Vijayawada. I was pleasantly surprised to see we were booked on the same airline I used to get to Cochin from Mumbai (Kingfisher).

We made it to Vijayawada on time landing about 3:55 p.m. We had one stop along the way. Flying up along the eastern coast you could see the rice fields below. Thomas told me that four states produce the rice crop for India. I asked him what would be the second most important crop and he told me it was wheat.

Since we were a party of 10 traveling to Naanbyr, along with all our luggage, there were three vehicles there to greet us. I was warned by someone in the States that Indian driving techniques were something to behold! I found that out on this trip. Along the way I turned to Sebastian, a priest from Brazil who worked in India for about eight years, and lived in Rome for a time when I was on the council, and said: The Indians have it all over the Italians when it comes to driving!

The drive took about an hour. It would be quicker if we did not have to go right through Vijayawada. The road is actually quite good and is a four lane highway most of the way. In spots it is still under construction but even here the traffic is not slowed by much. Once we exited the main highway we traveled a narrow road that could barely allow a car and bus or truck to pass one another. The biggest challenge though was working around the buffalo being moved along the road by one or two people. I think we passed at least three or four groups of five to perhaps a dozen being slowly prodded down the road.

The welcoming ceremony in Nambur

Our house at Nambur can’t be more then a couple of miles off the main highway. Our car, one of three, was the first to arrive. We had to wait outside for the others so that we could have our welcoming ceremony. This one was much like what I received at Aluva with an interesting twist at the end. Each of us had to break a coconut over a rock. I think it is a sign of good luck, but won’t bet my house on that thought. After breaking a coconut each of us was handed another to drink the coconut juice. It’s not a bad drink, but would not be on my list as to something I would order off a menu.

Nambur was built as the novitiate house, but now serves as the house for postulants (men getting ready to enter the novitiate. For many reasons the novices are now sent to the Philippines for the year-long novitiate experience. One real advantage for them is the opportunity to mingle with SCJs from two other Asian countries (Philippines and Vietnam). This is important at this stage in the development of our Indian District which is still young having been established only 17 years ago.

Fr. McQueen, the postulant director and house superior, informed us that we would have mass at 6:30 p.m. followed by supper and then a short program of welcome. Bishop Virginio presided at the mass. He would prefer to say mass in Spanish or Italian, but can manage English when asked. At both ordinations the homily is being given by a native speaker. Virginio actually prepared a homily for both ordinations in English. He asked me to read the homily he prepared for this group. It was an excellent reflection on what it means to be an SCJ priest. I asked him for a copy and will send it on to Mary Gorski for publication in the United States. He told me he would give me the other homily as well.

There is a sister’s community nearby. It is their house of formation and they joined us for the mass. I don’t recall the name of the community but their habit is traditional Indian dress for women done in a beautiful shade of green. The sisters joined us for the welcome program.

The program began with a prayer song. I suspect that’s how all of these programs begin as it was the same the other night in Aluva. The talent pool is a bit smaller compared to the philosophy house. There are at the moment seven postulants preparing for the novitiate. Even though the group is a lot smaller they did not lack talent nor energy! And as at Aluva, dancing was the most popular act. Out of the three acts provided by the sisters, two of them were dances and one a morality skit on the wages of sin.

Interspersed during the evening entertainment were two snack breaks. The latter was another opportunity to taste the local ice cream. This time it was the old staple, vanilla.  The evening was brought to a close when Bishop Virginio was asked to say a few things and end the festivities with a prayer and blessing.

Finally McQueen outlined tomorrow’s schedule. We’ll begin with a Holy Hour from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. Obviously its theme will be to pray for those to be ordained (and remembering those who were ordained on Tuesday). Breakfast will be a 8:00 a.m. and at 8:30 a.m. for those who wish there will be a morning of sightseeing and shopping. Folks are asked to be back here by 1:00 p.m. to give sufficient time for freshening up so as to be ready for a 3:00 p.m. departure for the cathedral and the ordination liturgy.

August 12, 2011 – Ordination Day – Phirangipuram

I’ve decided to stay here instead of taking the trip to town. I will be here for a few days and will have time later to do some shopping and sightseeing. This morning I have a few things to attend to and thought this wold be a good opportunity to do them as well as rest a bit. I have been on the go since Sunday and taking a morning to rest and relax seemed like a good idea.

That good idea became even a better idea when I learned that today’s ceremony will begin at 4:00 p.m. and will go until 9:00 p.m. McQueen told me at breakfast that the whole village will be there as they are doubling up on ceremonies. The local bishop will bless a new stage (where the mass will be held outdoors) and then we will have the ordination. The community has to pick up the tab on feeding 3,000 people at 80 rupees (right now one rupee is worth about $1.86) per person.

Sacred Heart, as I mentioned, was originally built as the novitiate house. It is designed to mimic an Ashram, a traditional Indian monastic community or spiritual center. I have a photo of the chapel building which sits in the center of the complex with  all the other inter-connected structures surrounding it.

I believe this is the house Charlie Bisgrove spent most of his time when working in India. He was to have accompanied me on this trip as those ordained this year where men he had accompanied along their formation path. Many have asked about his untimely death and said how much they appreciated his presence.

The rest of my day here went by quickly and we were finally on the road to the cathedral about 15 minutes behind schedule. All the foreign priests were to ride in the procession that was to begin at the edge of the village. A special program was set to begin at 4:00 p.m. just prior to moving on to the cathedral. It is about an hour’s drive from here and as a result we got there after the festivities had begun. I was told to go up on the stage to sit with the two bishops and Fr. McQueen. I wasn’t the last person to arrive, however, as one of the state ministers showed up and was accompanied to the stage with the usual hoopla politicians from around the world love. I believe the minister is a state minister and not at the national level. We are in Andhra Pradesh state. As we were coming into town I noticed a large gathering of people along with a lot of banners. One of our students told me the state was holding elections and this was a local campaign rally.

While we foreign priests rode in a mini-bus Bishop Virginio and Bishop Galli were riding in a cart pulled by a tractor. Just behind them followed a similar cart in which the six deacons to be ordained followed. The deacons sat on regular chairs instead of what you see provided for the two bishops.

While there were many reasons for the le grand celebration I suspect one of the most important to the locals was that two of their own were going to be ordained  Jojappa Kakumanu and Joseph Mandanu who hail from Phirangipuram.

The process began about a kilometer from the old cathedral and was led by two groups of dancers and drummers. Taking no account as to what this would do to the local traffic pattern we slowly moved down the main street of the town. As we were in the last vehicle there was little for us to see and when we were held up for about 20 minutes none of us had a clue what was going on. Meanwhile traffic was trying to get around our procession. I must say Indian drivers adapt to the situation well and though it might take time and lots of horn blowing, they can find a way out of this or any other situation.

Twice Fr. Tom was surprised to see his face on a public banner

Once our procession began again I noticed a banner that took me by surprise! I recalled that on the way in we had passed that political rally and that state elections were going on and we were graced with the presence of a state minister. I should point out the chief reason he was participating in the festivities probably had to do with the new stage we would dedicate right before the mass began and on which the liturgy would take place. So low and behold as we followed behind the wagon pulling the deacons my eyes caught site of a banner with my face on it.

I guess Bishop Galli and I were meant to be some kind of endorsement. Needless to say I had nothing to do with it, especially since I am on a tourist visa for two weeks of visits. In the end it brought a bit of a smile to my face and once again reminded me that while all politics are local there is also a universal quality to all politicians.

As it turned out this was not the only banner with my face on it. There was one more at the church in its large courtyard. There was one to me and one to Fr. Sugino from our general council (he’s from the Indonesian Province). I was tempted to ask for the banner when they were done with it, but didn’t really have the courage to do so. At least I got a pretty good picture of it. First time in my life I’ve been featured on a banner, and to think two in one day!

Remember we began the festivities at 4:00 p.m. a kilometer from the old cathedral; by the time we dedicated the altar and completed the liturgy it was 9:00 p.m. No one seemed to mind and even though with the exception of the ordination rite (the part  for which Bishop Virgino was responsible) it was done in a language I did not understand the time actually went by rather quickly. Of course it helps that even with the different language one has a pretty good idea of what is going on during the liturgy.

When I say 9:00 p.m. that includes the congratulations and thanking ceremonies. Starting with Bishops Galli and Virginio and working their way down the line of dignitaries and special guest each was presented with a shawl and garland.

I learned the hard way that there is a downside to getting garlands: they tend to stain your clothes, especially if you are wearing white. No wonder I noticed how quickly Bishop Galli took his off. I was not so lucky and hope the stains can come out of my alb.

Once we were finished with the “thank-yous” we walked over to the parish hall for a meal. The superior of the house (Fr. McQueen Mascarenhas) told me they expected to feed about 3,000 people. They were able to get the cost down to 80 rupees per person. In today’s dollars that would be about $1.86 per person. I thought it was a very good meanl and well handled. There were two eating sites: one for religious and clergy and another of the laity. Since it is very common for people to eat with their hands no eating utensils were provided so I had my first experience of eating rice and all the trimmings in this fashion. I can say I did not embarrass myself.

I’m not sure of the exact time, but I suspect we were on the road by around 10:15 p.m. and back in the house a little after 11:00 p.m. While there was less traffic on the road it was still very much a highway adventure before I settled in my bed for a short night’s sleep.

August 13, 2011, First of the First Masses

My program for the rest of my time in India has been worked out. I will stay here at the Ashram until the 17th and each day attend the first masses of the newly ordained in the area. On the 17th I will be taken by car to Eluru, home to our theologians. On the 20th I’ll go back to Cochin to our philosophy house and fly back to Mumbai on the 22nd for my 11:00 p.m. evening flight back to the States.

The first of the first masses is today’s with both Jojappa Kakumanu and Joseph Mandanu sharing the spotlight. Jojappa was the main celebrant and though I was not given a reason I can think of two. He spent two years in Brazil and two people who came to know him from his time in their country traveled all the way from there to be here for his ordination and first mass. The second is a bit more poignant. Jojappa’s mother died last November just a few days shy of her 65th birthday.

The first mass was scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. but when all was organized we began much closer to 10:00 a.m. The first mass went along traditional lines with a special preacher who gave the homily. Many of their classmates from their seminary days were present and concelebrated. After mass we also had the congratulations and garlands and gifts given to several people, including the two guests from Brazil.

While they were getting our lunch ready Jojappa invited us to come with him to the cemetery for a brief service at his mother’s grave. It was an emotional time for him and even though I did not understand much of what was said it was not too difficult to figure out he missies his mother a lot and sure wished she could have been physically present for this very special day.

We returned to the Ashram by early afternoon to give us some time to rest and refresh ourselves as we were headed to the minor seminary about 10 kilometers from here. The minor seminary and the ashram were dedicated on the same day. The seminary was paid for by the Dutch Province while the Ashram was paid for by our own US Province.

In late afternoon we departed for the seminary but would make one small detour first. Bishop Galli has assigned a new parish to our community. Fr. Dahni is its first pastor. He was ordained last year. Bishop Virginio came with us as he was going to spend a few hours at the minor seminary before heading to Hyderbad around midnight for his flight to Rome. He has business in Rome and then will head to Spain for World Youth Day and then return to Argentina.

Br. Sunderaj will accompany him to Hyderbad as he is on his regency year working with street children. It is a program run by the Salesians. He told me they care for about 300 children ranging in age from seven to 15. The goal is to get them off the street and into school. It is, by his own account, a challenging ministry.

The new parish is only about five minutes from our house unless the afternoon buffalo rush hour is in full swing. We happened to land in the middle of the buffalo migration back to town after a day in the fields. Most of these buffalo are prized for their milk rather then being used as beast of burden. They certainly take over the road and hooking of horns doesn’t seem to phase any of them at all.

The new church is a hole in the ground with the outline of what one day will be. The church is being built with volunteer labor with the assistance of paid professional masons. It may take time to get the church completed but it will be owned by the people as their own.

Our stop here took a little more time than perhaps we anticipated as many from the parish came out to greet us and were excited to know they had a real bishop present who would gladly bless them. Even though the language barrier was ever present Bishop Virgino’s smile and warmth pierced it with aplomb.

Finally we were on our way to visit Dehon Prema Nilayam where, I believe, Leonard Zaworski resided during most of his time in India. There are currently 33 students who live here and bike about seven kilometers to school. Their school day is a long one and goes six days a week. In addition to the regular school hours we were told extra teachers are hired to go over the days’ lessons with them to help them master the various subjects they need in order to advance to the next level and begin the philosophical studies.

Our program followed what has by now become the routine. We were greeted at the door with song, garlands (in this case bouquets of flowers) and introductions all around. Then we all proceeded to the chapel where we deposited our flowers on the altar. At the end of the brief prayer service the students were dismissed to give them a bit more time to get ready for the evening’s entertainment while the rest of us were given a brief tour of the building and grounds.

The rector is Fr. Thomas Vinod and he is also coordinating the district council while the general government decides how best to proceed toward local governance. Thomas showed us the garden where they are cultivating several fruit trees and other crops. They have a cow and a calf with another on the way. Thomas said during the summer dry season he and several of the boys who stay around during the vacation period work  the gardens, especially making sure they have sufficient water given the hot temperatures. I also learned snakes (as in cobras) are sometimes found on the property but that this time of year they stay away as their is little cover for them.

Following our supper with the staff and students we were ushered into the students’ recreation room for the night’s entertainment. This was the third performance I have been a party to during my week-long stay in India. I told the students when it was over: I won’t say which was the best program, but I will say they were the best dancers. Almost all the acts were dances of one kind or another.

Students dance during evening recreation

Some of the students had great control of  their bodies and certainly seemed to really enjoy dancing. This is in contrast to what we’d find back home where most boys shy away from dance. Here it seems to be more the accepted form of expression for them. The dances themselves were a mixture of Indian culture (movements) with those found in the global village we all find ourselves living in the 21st century.

Our program came to an end a little after 9:00 p.m. It took a little while for all the good-byes to take place. It was here that I bid farewell to Bishop Virgino. It was so good to be with him for a few days and I hope there will be another time and place in which we can meet. He asked me to greet all the SCJs in the United States and to tell Mary Gorski how much he appreciates being kept up-to-date with all the news in the US Province.

August 14, 2011 – First Mass for Fr. Jayaraju at Vissannapeta

It’s Sunday and later on today we’ll travel to Vissannapeta for Jayaraju’s first mass. I am told it is about a three hour drive and we plan to leave at 1:30 p.m. That meant I had the morning and could have gone sightseeing, but instead stayed home to catch up on e-mails and write a few as well.

I also caught up on the Milwaukee Brewers who continue to play very good baseball and now have opened up a five game lead over second place St. Louis. All I know about baseball I learned from my dad, who had some great baseball expressions and about this time of year he was fond of saying: In August the cream starts to rise to the top. From what I read it sounds like Miller Park is rocking and is “the place” to be these days.

I also spent time this morning catching up on this diary. So the bottom line was the morning went by rather quickly with all that I wanted to do and, happily was able to accomplish. So now it’s on to Vissannapeta. One of the young priests, Isaac Sunil Roman, was our driver to the yesterday’s first mass. I told him when we got home: It was an adventure. I don’t know who we’ll have today, but I’m sure the roads will be venturesome!

My next driving venture took 2 1/2 hours to the village of Vissannapeta for Jayaraju’s first mass. This, I am told, is a very traditional village. We thought things would get started around 4:00 p.m., but it was moving toward 5:30 p.m. before the traditional procession began.

We used the time to explore the parish compound, as well as speak with the pastor. He was a very pleasant man and told me Jayaraju was the tenth vocation from this parish and hoped for many more. In addition to the church there are two hostels, one for boys and one for girls. I’m not sure how to describe hostels but if I understand the concept it is for children who perhaps have a difficult home situation, or a single parent home. I guess the bottom line is that it’s for a child in need who could benefit by a safe place in which to go to school.

Two young girls caught my eye. I discovered all the kids love to have their pictures taken as well as receive a blessing — actually many adults wanted to receive a blessing. I found that out during our procession to the church.

The procession for a newly ordained priest is an old custom and continues, at least in a village sitting. Today’s began about a kilometer from the church compound and began on the main street, yes with all the traffic.

Before it began Jayaraju asked Fr. Sugino to ride with him and his mother. Traditionally it would be his parents, but his father died sometime ago. The wagon pulled by a tractor was preceded by a small band who played along the way, but from time to time would have to compete with music coming from loud speakers perched on the wagon. Once the procession got underway most of us ended up walking in front of the wagon.

We, gratefully, did not spend all that much time on the main road but took a right turn into a lane that would lead us to Jayaraju’s home where many of his family would be waiting for him. Once we got there he and Fr. Sugino and his mother climbed off the wagon and went into the house. I was told traditionally Jayaraju would have his feet washed, I presume by his mother but that’s only a guess on my part.

While we were all waiting outside for the procession to resume I was asked by many to bless their children and themselves. I suspect in part because as an American it was kind of hard not to stand out in this crowd.

Our procession took off once again and finally made it to the convent across from the church grounds. The girls’ hostel is located here and many were lined up to lead us onto the church grounds. Some of these girls would also form the choir for the liturgy. The convent grounds is also where we priests vested and once all was ready we began our short walk across the highway and to the grounds set up for mass just outside the church. The pastor told me they expected to feed about 1,000 people after the service.

Before the mass began there was a traditional service with song and dance performed by girls dressed in traditional attire. The same girls performed a dance at the end of the liturgy.

In addition to Jayaraju  his newly ordained classmates joined him in the liturgy and celebrations. The mass was done in the local language, Telagu. Many parts of the mass are sung and have a pleasing melody and sound to all. We also had many songs interspersed led by a priest who was accompanied by the girls I mentioned earlier.

It turned out to be a long evening. I joked, though it actually was true, when all was said and done this took longer then ordaining all six of them last week. This includes the procession as well as the important thank you and congratulations ceremony done at the end of the mass. Many received garland and received a shawl, yours truly included. We were each introduced and members of Jayaraju’s family placed a garland over our heads and another put the shawl around our shoulders. Knowing by now how the garlands stain I quickly removed it and placed it on a statue of St. Joseph that was nearby. By the time the ceremonies were concluded Joseph had five or six garlands draped over him.

An open air kitchen for a first-mass celebration

What celebration, anywhere in the world for that matter, would be complete without a meal to top off the evening. By now it was going on 9:45 p.m. and the serving began. I snapped a photo earlier in the day of the makeshift kitchen where rice (fried and white) and several other dishes were being prepared to feed the expect 1000 guests.

McQueen suggested we eat quickly so we could get back on the road since we had a long drive home. Isaac Sunil Roman was taking Warjto and Dhani to Eluru with the car I had made the trip in. Thus on the way back I was in the car driven my the house driver. He made the trip home in 1 hour and 30 minutes. That shaved an hour off our time. I can credit in part the fact that there was truly less traffic on the road at that hour, as well as a different route to get us to the main highway helped. But, perhaps, it is the speed at which we made the trip that accounted for much of the time savings.

So it was off to bed after a shower to wipe away the grime and sweat of the day’s journeys and activities. It would be a fairly short night as we would have morning prayer and adoration at 7:30 a.m. followed by flag raising in honor of Indian Independence Day, and Jojappa’s first mass set to begin at 4:15 p.m. at Thallacheruvu, about two hours from here.

August 15, 2011 Feast of the Assumption – Indian Independence – First Mass

Today’s journey was not as taxing as some of the others. The village of Thallacheruvu is a little under two hours from the Ashram. Much of the drive is also on back roads and while they are narrow, not  more then a one lane highway the traffic is sparse compared to cities and highways.

Speaking of traffic a driver has to contend with many types of vehicles and obstacles on most roads, including major highways. Starting from the slowest these would include: (1) pedestrians, (2) hand carts, (3) bicycles, (4) auto rickshaws (three wheeled motorized vehicles). (5) motor scooters, (6) motorcycles, (7) cars of all shapes and sizes and speeds;,(8) trucks, and (9) busses. And then there are the herds of water buffalo being moved to or from the fields or the wondering cow sacred to Hindus, thought these seem to be more frequent in town then in the countryside, at least in my few encounters.

It would be interesting to know just how many kilometers some of these places really are from one to the other. I have little doubt distances are measured in hours and not kilometers.

We didn’t have to contend with the road until early afternoon. Our morning was free to enjoy Indian Independence day. Our celebration began with morning prayer and adoration at which we prayed for the nation and its future. India, you  may recall, is one of the rising economic forces in Asia with over a billion people. There is still lots of poverty and weak infrastructure but as Wajito remarked: There is a big difference from the India I saw 10 years ago and now, especially the number and variety of cars.

After breakfast we had a flag waving ceremony with prayer and a couple of speeches by two of the postulants. It is not a custom, at least in this house, to fly the flag daily as we do at most of our houses in the States.

My morning went by quickly doing some work on this journal as well as catching up on e-mails. Having instant communication is wonderful but it also adds to daily chores even when you are 10,000 miles away from the office. When Bishop Virginio was superior general he often said: I envy Fr. Dehon [our founder] because when he left Rome on one of his trips he wouldn’t hear from them for six months. Now you’re lucky if you are out of touch for six hours. I think the instant part will only grow stronger as time goes on and technology continues to develop.

After lunch we were scheduled to depart at 2:00 p.m., and as is often the case when dealing with a group, the departure time slipped by and it was closer to 2:30 p.m. before we were on the road.

As has been the case in all but the first of the first masses we arrived at the edge of the village where the procession to the church would begin. This one was complete with a band and the fireworks I first heard yesterday.

A small difference from all of the other celebrations was the type of garland given to the honored guests. Instead of flowers it was made of paper and plastic. A real advantage to the recipient was knowing that wearing it would not stain your clothing — thus you could leave it on for extended periods of time.

Our procession moved at a slow pace and every so often we would stop and one or two of the men would perform a dance. Eventually we found the church and entered the courtyard where a large banner of the six newly ordained greeted us all!

A banner honors the newly ordained from Andhra Pradesh

Jojappa, was today’s guest of honor and main celebrant. He was joined by the five other newly ordained from Andhra Pradesh as well as Ajit Baxla from Delhi, who was ordained along with the first batch in Kerela. As previously noted he is the first Indian SCJ from the north.

The mass was going to be celebrated in the church rather than outside. It was a good thing too as during the later part of the liturgy it began to rain hard and when we went to eat it was still coming down pretty good. Though we did not have to put up with very much rain on the drive home we were told that even here in Nambur (Sacred Heart Ashram) that good rains fell during the evening hours.

Each of the first masses has had a special touch. Yesterday it was the procession stopping at the home of Jayarajij for the feet washing ceremony before heading to church. Today it was the opening blessing ceremony that I am sure comes out of the Hindu culture.

Jojappa blest all with fire and incense before proceeding to the altar to begin the liturgy. All the liturgies began with a few remarks from the celebrant and then moved into the penitential rite. In every case it has included blessing with holy water. The rest of the mass is as usual. The homily in each case is given by guest priests. That’s an old and universal custom. On average the homilist preached for about 20 minutes. Naturally, unless they reverted to English I was clueless as to what was being said. Several of the preachers have made a few remarks in English mindful of the guests who have come from various parts of the world and are not familiar with the local language.

I have no idea how many languages or dialects are spoken in the country. English is one of the common languages, but it requires schooling to be proficient in it. Most of our students speak at least four to five languages. One of the newly ordained told me that in many cases the languages are related so it is not too difficult to pick them up. I suspect too that mastering several languages when you know others helps in mastering new languages as the need arises. Since a number of the Indian SCJ students have been in other provinces for their regency you can find them speaking with you in Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Bahasa Indonesian with other languages soon to be spoken when students return from South Africa or Germany for example.

One other feature of the first mass liturgies that figured prominently in dignifying the occasion was the offertory gifts. Before the bread and wine were presented to the newly ordained a procession of (I presume) family and friends bring up offerings of fruit, eggs, rice, flowers, etc. These offerings are placed in front of the altar and will remain until the mass is concluded.

After communion and before the closing prayer the newly ordained celebrating his special day will give a short speech in which he thanks all those responsible for making this day happen — at least given the language barrier I think that’s what is being said. The final blessing was offered by all the newly ordained present and then instead of a procession out of church the altar is cleared and we take off our vestments and again sit down to begin our congratulations and honoring time.

The honoring over, we ran the short distance to the parish house/hall as the rain continued to come down, for a traditional supper. The foreign guests were seated at a special table complete with utensils. The others were next to us and ate their meal in the traditional way with their fingers.

On the road again by about 9:15 p.m. we made it home in just under two hours. Once again the night would be short as tomorrow’s first mass and last for this group would take place at 10:00 a.m. about 1 1/2 hours from here on the other side of Guntur.

August 16, 2011 – First Mass for Hruday Pudhota

For the last few days we have been attending first masses that started in late afternoon. This one would begin around 10:00 a.m. with the procession to the church. Thurakapalem is about an hour-and-a-half from our house. Again the distance is not that great but the traffic would determine just how fast we would get there.

Our group traveled in two cars and as it turned out I was in the lucky car. Shortly after leaving the Ashram the car driven by Sunil had engine trouble that forced them to halt. It took awhile to find a mechanic who pronounced it would take several hours to fix the vehicle. Fr. McQueen searched around to hire a car and by the time this group got to the church we were well into the liturgy. Sunil stayed with the broken down car and as we were returning home in mid-afternoon called to let us know the car was fixed and he was heading home to Eluru (where our theologate is located).

Our trip took us through parts of Guntur and that is the reason one has to leave plenty of time to get to Thurakapalem. Guntur is a good size city with lots of traffic covering all those I have listed, including cows roaming the streets. The cows certainly seem to know they have protective status and pay little, if any heed to the traffic swirling around them. It was almost comical watching one cow amble into a very busy intersection as cars, trucks, buses, etc., swerved to miss each other and keep the cow going merrily on its way. When all was said and done it took about an extra 10 minutes to get to the starting point for the church procession.

My vantage point for this last procession was perched atop one of of the two wagons. In front of us was a wagon carrying the other five newly ordained in Guntur plus Ajit, who was ordained Kerala on the 11th with four other SCJs.

On our wagon I rode behind Sugino and the priest of the day, Hruday Pudhota. Seated with me was Sebastian Pitz, scj, from Brazil. Sebastian worked in India for about seven years as novice master — for him this was very much a homecoming. Charlie Bisgrove’ was scheduled to travel with me, but his untimely death last May ended those plans. Many Indian SCJs asked about him and spoke of him with high regard.

Our process had its requisite band and fireworks. This band had uniforms and was probably the largest of the three processions I participated in. Along the route there were several banners honoring Pudhota and the other newly ordained.

The first mass was an outdoor affair held under a large open air tent. It helped to keep the sun off and with a fair breeze blowing it was comfortable. I would guess the air temperature was in the low nineties, but I have no real way of knowing.

The mass ended with the requisite start of the honoring. Pudhota’s mother and father are living and were invited to sit with him after they had been garlanded and given a shawl. I collected my fifth shawl to take home with me. These two photos give a feel for the flavor of today’s honoring. It featured many more dances by young people, bot boys and girls.

I have no idea how long the ceremony lasted. After the candle dance we were invited to have lunch. The meal was served on the roof of the parish house. Two food items were new to me. One was a vegetable breaded and fried that had a slightly sweet taste to it. The other was a green vegetable, creamed and mixed with some hot spices. It too was very good but required a generous dose of water to cool the pallet. Of course several kinds of rice along with chicken, lamb and beef were served. The meats were small bite size pieces you ate either on their own or as I like, mixed with the rice.

Once we finished our meal the group began to gather for the ride home. I think we were back at the house around 4:15 p.m. The highlight of the trip home was witnessing the aftermath of a bus-truck collision. From the looks of it only minor injuries to the humans but pretty good damage to the front ends of both the truck and bus.  Because of the car problems earlier in the day one of the postulants, Keran, was our driver.

Warjito was the celebrant and used the occasion to thank one and all for their hospitality. At 4:00 a.m. the next morning he and Danhi would catch the train for Mumbai. They will arrive in Mumbai on Thursday morning around 5:00 a.m. Then it’s a 1:00 p.m. flight home to Indonesia.

We have night prayers at 9:30 a.m. and for the first time in a week I was in bed before 11:00 p.m. A good night’s sleep for the day that begins early with prayer at 6:00 a.m. at the dawn of a new day.

Fr. Sebastian Pitz, former novice master in India, Fr. Tom and Fr. McQueen Mascarenhas with Indian postulants

August 17, 2011 – Traveling to Eluru

Yesterday McQueen had one of the postulants pick up my dirty laundry. I needed to get it done as I’m down to my last clean shirt. He promised I would have it before noon as right after lunch I will travel by car to the theologate. Since this was my last day he also asked me to be the celebrant for the mass.

Sugino will travel this morning to the minor seminary for meetings. He is the general councilor responsible for Asia. With the recent visa difficulties for the districted leadership this is an important visit. Much of the groundwork was set at the SCJ Asian Conference held last month in Indonesia. Now he will be consulting with the members on a new leadership team.

It will mean that young, at least in terms of religious life and experience, will be placed in leadership with all its challenges and opportunities. I am reminded of a saying of our first US Provincial, Fr. Kiefer, who is often quoted as saying: You build with the bricks you have. That certainly will be the case for India. Fortunately with all the modern means of communications, advice is not all that difficult to find.

After breakfast I have the morning to myself and will use it to pack my bags and catch up on some e-mails and this journal.  The morning went by much too fast and before I knew it the bell rang for noon prayer. I was warned that my clothes had not dried properly due to the humidity and clouds and that I should give them to the folks at the theologate in Eluru to dry properly. The clothes were neatly folded, but certainly still a bit damp. One of the postulants had taken charge of this task. I wish I could fold clothing as neatly as he did!

Just before going to prayer we took time to have a group photo taken. In addition to the seven postulants, Fr. Sebastian Pitz from the Central Brazilian SCJ Province is on the far left and next to me is Fr. McQueen, director of the postulant program. From there we had the rosary in the chapel followed by the noon meal. Departure was set for 1:30 p.m. which gave me more then enough time to finish packing and tidy up my room.

Two of the postulants accompanied the driver on the drive up to Eluru. Earlier I thought I was told the trip takes three hours, but in reality it is about a two hour drive; we did it in a shade under that. Major portions of the trip take place on a new highway that seemed to have less traffic. Again it was not distance so much as going through some towns and one fairly large city that slowed our progress.

We arrived at our house just before 3:00 p.m. as students were doing their afternoon chores. They all stopped for the traditional welcoming song and garlanding along with some fresh coconut milk for me.

Once again I am blest with an air-conditioned room, the largest I’ve had so far, but perhaps that’s in part because I’m the only guest rather then being third on the pecking order behind Bishop Bressanelli and Sugino. Then again, it was I who got the air-conditioned room at the Ashram.

I am hoping to spend the next two days not doing too much. Five days of first masses with all the travel is enough for anyone. I enjoyed them all and would gladly do it again, but it certainly tied up most of the day and then there was the adventure of getting from point A to point B!

The program for the rest of the day for me is rather simple. We have adoration at 5:30 p.m. The the students are going out to a mass to commemorate the former bishop who died two years ago. Supper will be at 8:00 p.m. followed by recreation and night prayer at 9:10 p.m. For the students lights out at 11: 30 p.m.. It makes for a short night as rising is at 5:30 a.m. with prayers beginning at 6:00 a.m.

The school where they attend theology classes is about three kilometers from our house so the students go back and fourth by bicycle.  At present there are no first year theologians as a change was made in the formation program. I believe it involved expanding the postulant program before the novitiate. The first new group are currently in the novitiate in the Philippines. What it means for the house is next year they’ll have first year theologians but no second year until it works its way through the system in three more years.

Frankly I think it is good that the novitiate is taking place in the Philippines. Three of our four Asian entities send their novices to this program so it combines Vietnamese, Indians and Philippine novices.  As all three of these regions are very new to our SCJ family I think it builds bridges and a broader understanding of the congregation for each of these entities.

August 18, 2011 – Eluru a Day of Rest

I don’t intend to do too much today after all the traveling during the five days of first masses. When someone is not used to the Indian driving it can be a bit stressful. You have to learn to trust your driver and that he knows what he is doing. We did manage on two separate occasions to lose the same mirror on the passenger side of the car. Now remember this is India,, once part of the British Empire, and some things still remain from those days and one of these is driving on the left side of the road.

Because I was the tallest I always was told to ride up in front giving me a good view of what the traffic patterns and hazards were like on the road ahead. Our first mirror incident took place last Saturday. After showing us the new Sacred Heart parish  we encountered one of several small herds of water buffalo. As the driver was maneuvering through the maze of lumbering cattle one of them clipped the passenger side mirror with his horn and off it came. I don’t think the cow was any worse for wear. The mirror came right off and was saved from being lost forever by the lines through which the driver controlled its directions.  By the morning of the next day our regular driver had it back in place.

The second incident happened on the journey to the last of the first masses. Traveling through what I think was still part of Guntur a bus clipped it and again took it off, but this time the mirror itself was lost forever and only the housing was left dangling by its two cords. This time we stopped to have an argument with the bus driver, and I think several passengers, as to who was to blame and who was to pay. Since we were actually in a hurry the discussions were not all that long. I saw the bus driver wave some bills, but I don’t think any  money actually changed hands. Again, the next day as I got into the car to come to Eluru the mirror housing was again back in place this time held together with good old duct tape.

Although no one has told me this I believe statues are important to Indian culture. In practically every city and village I have visited one or more statues of various individuals are on display. That’s in addition to any Hindu images or Catholic saints encountered along the way. It’s no different at our houses. Here at the theologate in front of the main entrance a statue of Fr. Dehon welcomes all. There is also a statue of the Sacred Heart with Christ sitting in the style of Budda.

This morning after 6:00 a.m morning prayers we had about a half hour break before mass began. I was the main celebrant this morning. Today’s gospel lent itself well to saying a few words as it was one of the the kingdom is like parables. One of our great mottos or slogans as SCJs is: Thy Kingdom Come. On short notice it’s one of the easier topics to key in on.

After mass the students have about 30 minutes to do some morning chores before breakfast at 7:45 a.m. They’ll be off for school at 9:00 a.m and I will follow along with Sunil at 10:00 a.m to get a tour of the place.  I look forward to it.

Right on time Jesus (those in Hales Corners will remember him from his days in ESL, he’s an SCJ from Spain), Sunil and I set off for the Vijnananilayam Institute of Philosophy and Religion run by the Capuchins. Around 250 seminarians study philosophy and theology at this institute. Our own SCJ students do their philosophical studies in Kerala.

I learned that the Capuchins are the third largest men’s religious community in India; they follow behind the Jesuits and Salesians. India has the largest group of Jesuits in the world and the same is now true for the Capuchins. When I inquired about the history of their presence in India I learned the Capuchins came in around 1750 to North India. We are Johnny Come Lately; that’s true for the Philippines (1987), India (1994) and Vietnam being even more recent.

Sunil introduced me to the institute’s treasurer and Fr. Simon, one of the professors. Sunil was one of his students a few short years ago. Our host treated us to tea and coffee while outside the rain came pouring down. I thought of my sister in Phoenix for they call this monsoon season as well, but I suspect it would be massive flooding on the streets of the city if the same rains we were experiencing hit Phoenix.

The SCJs’ first parish is in this area and even though the weather was not in our favor we made the short drive to give it a look. As we got closer to Sacred Heart Parish the weather changed and the rains stopped, in fact the closer still it was clear no rain had yet fallen in this area. Sunil explained that several months ago the bishop gave us three mission stations and attached them to the parish.

With the recent addition of Sacred Heart Parish near Nambur the SCJs now have two parishes to care for. Now that the formation program is well established they will be looking for other opportunities to expand their pastoral ministry. That will be one of the tasks for the new administration. Sugino has extended his stay in India to do the consultation among the membership.

By the time we returned it was getting towards noon with dinner to follow at 1:00 p.m. Next on the schedule is rosary on the terrance followed by a work period for the students. That will give me some time to myself and a chance to finish the book I’ve been listening to, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.

It’s now evening and I have a little over an hour to kill before supper. I thought it would be useful to copy the daily schedule followed by the theological students. It will vary a bit from the minor seminary, house of philosophy, postulant program and novitiate, but this will give you a pretty good idea of the typical SCJ student daily program.

05:30  Rising*
06:00  Morning Prayer
06:45  Mass
07:30  Breakfast
08:00  [Bike] to school
13:00  Lunch
15:00  Work Period
16:00  Sport
18:00  Adoration & Evening Prayer
18:45  Study
20:00  Dinner
20:30  Recreation
21:10  Night Prayer
22:30  Lights out

*Note that there are some variations in the daily routine on certain days of the week, especially Saturday.

I note the rosary does not appear on the program and yet it is said daily around 2:30 p.m. somedays in the chapel and others, like today on the terrace [roof top]. This area is open to the air but with a roof to keep everyone dry in raining weather. There is a stage and an area for sport up there, plus behind the stage an area to hang clothes to dry.

While I’m reflecting on things I don’t want to forget to mention that electricity is a problem as it goes off several times a day. The same was true at Nambur. It is more of an inconvenience as both houses have generators large enough to power everything in the house. I suppose computers are the most critical things, but they too are equipped with a battery that will give you a minute or two to save your work and power down before cutting off electrical current totally.

I don’t know about here but in Nambur one of the postulants was charged with running the generator. He knew when to shut it off as there was a light not connected to the generator system that would go on once power had been restored to the system. I suspect there is a similar arrangement here.

August 19, 2011 – A Day of Shopping and Touring

At this morning’s liturgy one of the fourth-year scholastics gave a homily on today’s readings connecting them as well to the feast of St. John Eudes. He did a good job and received hearty congratulations from his fellow students. I thought, as he was speaking, of my own experiences for in many ways the hardest audience to preach to are your peers!

One small comment on the liturgies that I don’t think I’ve mentioned until this point. Apparently it is the custom all over the states of India I have visited (Kerala and Andhra Pradesh) to omit the prayers of intercession.  In addition, the kiss of peace is done by folding your hands as if in prayer and bowing to the persons next to you while wishing them peace. Other than that liturgies are the same; only the Indian accent would give it away that you’re in India and not America.

While I have time a few comments on food as well. First of all the preferred drink with meals is water. Very little coffee or tea is served. At Nambur breakfast included coffee with milk and sugar. Once they learned that most of the guests preferred black coffee that was served as well. Here in Eluru Jesus has been my coffee savior as he has made a mean cup of black coffee after each meal. This morning he even brought a cup for me and himself to breakfast.

I have enjoyed the meals in all three houses where I have been staying. In addition don’t forget I also partook in five days of first mass feasts as well. Obviously rice is the staple served at all meals, though at breakfast every so often a small white patty substituted. It is eaten with a brown sauce. It, I must confess, is the only thing I have chosen not to eat, though I am not sure why. Perhaps because I could enjoy a piece of bread and a fried egg in its place.

At the other two meals rice indeed is the center of everything. It is served with one, or perhaps two, meats. The meat (chicken, lamb or beef) is cubed into small pieces and served in a sauce. One cooked vegetable accompanies it. I have really enjoyed the vegetable dishes. Some are ones I know well while a few are total strangers to my pallet. Of course there is a tang/spicy quality to everything. I have tolerated it all well and, knock on wood, have not gotten ill. Water is what you need to be careful about. All the houses have filter systems for their water and I guess I am testament to their effectiveness.

Here at Eluru in addition to the main dishes at our table are two plates, one with additional fried meats (chicken so far) and another of cooked potatoes and carrots. Both are home grown.

If there is one surprise about foods is the limited amount of fruit that is eaten. To make a comparison, the Indonesians have a much greater variety of local fruits and serve them at just about every meal. So far at some meals we will have bananas and perhaps another oranges. Nambur also had from time to time apples. I think the mango season is over with but that would be featured as well. At the minor seminary in Kumbalanghy they grow mangos and other tree bearing fruits.

There would also be the difference from state to state. Many of our men from Kerala come from near the coast and thus love eating fish. Here in Andhra Pradesh we are much further inland and meat is featured over fish.

Finally, as I have eluded to before, ice cream seems to be a favored desert. It is pretty good ice cream too. The servers do have to battle the heat to try and make sure you get it before it turns to soup. Maybe because the food is spicy and does leave a sting in your mouth the cool ice cream tastes even better.

In a bit we (Sunil, Jesus and I) will leave for the city to visit the cathedral and do some Christmas shopping. I always try to do that when I’m on one of my trips to get something a bit different for my four sisters.

The sanctuary at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Eluru

We are back from our shopping trip and a visit to Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Eluru. The city has a population of around 300,000. It’s only about a 10 minute car ride from our house. The diocese of Eluru was established in 1977 and they are awaiting the appointment of a new bishop. The first bishop died about two years ago and it is a bit unusual to go this long without the appointment of his successor.

We were lucky that the church was open so we could get a look inside. The church is fueled with statutes of saints and the use of bright colors is very pronounced. We Americans would probably describe it as too busy, but as the saying goes: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

This picture of the sanctuary may give you some idea of the use of color and images. One other difference distinguishing this church from the others I have visited or celebrated the mass is pews. All the others had no pews with people sitting on the floor while this one was filled with pews and kneelers.

After our tour of the cathedral and its extensive grounds we drove to a shop where I took care of much of my Christmas shopping for this year. In all our trip took a little more than an hour-and-a-half. Now I can rest up until dinner at 1:00 p.m.

On the way home Jesus and Sunil were discussing their Telagu lesson that they will take while I am talking with the students. Sunil is from Kerala and even though the languages are related his native Malayam, it is not spoken around here.

At the end of the noon meal Sunil announced that I would speak to the students about the US Province and the Catholic Church in the United States. This was planned for study hall time following adoration. The students reminded Sunil that they had the movie scheduled for 5:30 p.m. The film was a fund raising project by the students to raise funds to be used for programs at Sacred Heart Parish and its three stations. After a bit of back and forth we agreed that after the rosary (2:45 p.m. in chapel) I would meet with the students in the conference room and following that we would have adoration to give students plenty of time to get on the road. They would all travel by bicycle.

When I gathered with the students Jesus used his computer to project a map of the United States so I could show the areas where SCJs lived and worked. I asked them how long their school classes lasted and they responded 45 minutes. We agreed I would go that long and if they wanted more I would continue.

Jesus was helpful since he spent extended time in the United States when he was in the ESL program learning English. He was able to call up some pictures of South Dakota and Hendrik after I spoke about two Indonesians now working on the reservations in South Dakota. The 45 minutes went by quickly and the students asked for more. We spend about an hour and 30 minutes and only quit so we could have adoration and evening prayer and still give them enough time to get be on the road in time for the start of the film.

One of the best ambassadors for the US Province turned out to be Jesus. He encouraged the students to consider becoming missionaries in the US given where the SCJs work, especially among the poor. He told them: You are good with languages and could learn Spanish quickly. Spanish gave me an entry to speak about Mexico and that is an area in which Indian SCJs could be very helpful should they be so inclined.  Now is not the moment to bring the subject up to the district leadership. Due to the sudden denial of visas for the entire leadership team the general administration is trying to put in place a new major superior and council.

That’s why Sugino will stay until mid-September to consult with everyone and I think to get a better handle on the situation. Once a new council has been appointed and has time to get its feet on the ground I certainly hope to speak with them about Mexico. Whether they would be open to several of their young men working in the United States remains to be seen. It’s not a simple question. It starts with visas and involves cultural differences, accents, etc.! I told Jesus I’m going to blame it all on you.

The rest of the evening was normal. The students arrived back shortly after 8:00 p.m. Sunil, Jesus and I had already begun our supper. This being Friday we had fish (river fish), though as we have had every day there were fried chicken nuggets at our table. I think they were there (along with some boiled potatoes and carrots) because I was in the house. I had fish at noon, but shied away from the evening’s offerings — too many bones.

I may have mentioned this before but I’ll say it again. If asked back home what I liked best about the food my reply will be: I really enjoyed the vegetables that accompanied the rice. The Indians must have too because it was hard to go back for seconds as they were all gone by then.

One final remark about the day. We had rain on and off all day long. Sometimes it was heavy and others it would be a soft rain, as the Irish would say. Jesus said this is the most rain he has seen and it is his third year at Eluru. Rain often interferes with TV satellite reception, but did not seem to cause the internet connection to shut down. It would go down when we lost electricity. That was a much more common occurrence compared to Nambur or any other place I stayed a night or visited.

August 20, 2011 – Travel Day

This is Saturday and there is no school for the students. They would have a conference after breakfast and I presume extended work period. It would also give them more time to study. I don’t know for sure but I think they all go out help at the parish and missions on Sunday. I was slightly surprised to learn there are no Saturday Night Masses in India. Then again, there is no priest shortage either.

At mass this morning we had a shared homily. Actually it might be better to say three of the students were tasked with preparing a reflection following the gospel. The students were broken into two groups. Jesus took a smaller group to the prayer room they have down the hall from the chapel. I stayed with Sunil in the chapel with the majority of students. I thought the reflections were pretty good and certainly based on the scripture readings.

At breakfast Sunil told the students I would be leaving at 10:00 a.m. and they would break from the conference to say goodbye. I, being my always punctual self, was out at the main door at 9:45 a.m. Some of the students were there with more gathering. I learned a few facts from the students as we chatted waiting for Jesus to bring the car. I may be off a bit on what follows as it is all by memory having heard them just before leaving and putting this down at 3:15 p.m. at the Bangaluru (Bangalore) Airport where I have three hours to kill before heading to Cochin. Some of what I recalled:

  1. India has 32 states
  2. Andhra Pradesh is like Texas (as it covers the biggest  geographic area).
  3. The hardest language to learn, according to the students, is Malayam as it is a “new” language. It is really the mixing of the three languages of the three kingdoms which took place about 200 years ago. It has, like English, 26 letters — believe me they don’t look at all like the English alphabet.
  4. There are, in fact, over 1,000 languages spoken in India.
  5. There are over 6,000 castes (that came as a surpass, but I know that’s what I was told, no foggy memory on that one).
  6. The Telagu alphabet has 52 letters.
  7. The majority of the population is in the north. North would be anywhere above the four southern states. The two southern states I know and visited are: Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
  8. Over 600,000 Indians own a cell phone.
  9. Gas costs about twice as much as diesel and would cost about $4.00 a gallon in US dollars.

This is a long travel day. Jesus and I departed the scholasticate promptly at 10:00 a.m. We were headed for Vijayawada for a 12:25 departure on Kingfisher Airlines (IT) #2445 for Bengaluru (Bangalore). It’s a drive of about 45 minutes much of it on a new road. It is a privately buillt toll road. The traffic was almost American save for the auto rickshaws getting in the way. Even after stopping for fuel we made it easily in 45 minutes. the Vijayawada airport is not very large. It would compare in size to Pierre,  SD, though perhaps a little bigger and with better food service.

The flight left on time and landed about 15 minutes ahead the given flying time. I’ve noticed that all my flights have landed well before the flying time given by the pilots before take off. So from around 2:00 p.m. I have to kill time until 6:40 p.m. Fortunately Bengaluru is a good size airport with a modern terminal and shops and other venues to eat up.

The flight to Cochin (Kochi) left on time and arrived five minutes early. Didn’t get to see much as soon after we took off night fell, besides we flew most of the trip through clouds. I think we hit a bit of rain as well, but by and large the flight was smooth.

After picking up my luggage I went outside expecting to see someone from the philosophy house community. No one was there, while panic didn’t set in I ran through my options and the best was a cab hoping with the address I had he would find our house. After about four or five minutes of waiting Mariano was there with a car to take us home.

On the way I mentioned the facts that I learned from the students at Eluru just before I left to come here. Two facts were disputed:

(1) No, there are not over 1,000 languages there are only some 600 languages and dialects. (2)  No, there are not 6,000 castes there are a lot less — didn’t get a number.

We got home (Aluva) about 8:30 p.m. Mariano suggested I take a few minutes to freshen up while he prepared supper. I have a different room this time. I think Bishop Virginio had this one. It’s Tom Fix’s and is available since he’s back in the USA on vacation. I’ll have to remember to thank him. It has a Tom Fix touch to it all.

For those who don’t know Tom. He’s an SCJ born in Milwaukee and is a member of the Indonesian province who is assisting the Indian District in their formation program.

When I came into the dinning room two students where helping to get everything ready. Mariano prepared an excellent supper with a fish curry as the main course. Ah, yes, I know I am in Kerla when fish becomes the center of attention.

On the ride back to the house Mariano asked me if I wanted to attend the first mass tomorrow. In many ways a fitting way to end my trip. One of the chief reasons Kus, the district superior at the time, had asked me to come was to help celebrate the 11 ordinations. So off we go in the morning.

August 21, 2011 – Last Day & One More First Mass

Today’s first mass took place about 45 minutes from here. We left the house around 9:00 a.m. giving us plenty of time as the mass was scheduled for 11:00 a.m. Br. Xavier was our driver. The Indians don’t mind packing a vehicle to the hilt with people and belongings. We were with a group of new priests and one of the philosophy students who was responsible for taking care of the vestments. I spent most of the trip listening to my book on my iphone as the language of conversation quickly turned to non-English, though I could not tell you the language of the day.

When we arrived at St. Thomas More Church the parish mass was still in progress. The church was packed to overflowing. I doubt, except for Christmas and Easter, we would find many churches in America or Europe that would be likewise on an August Sunday morning.

This was a rather plain church, especially compared to many others that were packed with statues and painted in bright colors. As in almost all of the churches there were no pews and most people sat on the floor, although there were plastic chairs for a number of people, especially the family of Fr. Martin.

I didn’t know until late last evening that this would be a special day for Martin’s family, especially his parents.  In addition to the first mass, Martin would perform the wedding ceremony for his two brothers. As it turned out he actually married three couples. The third had no relationship to Martin’s family but I guess had planned to be married on that day and got thrown in for good measure?

After mass we had the usual meal with the priests and sisters eating in one place and the lay people in another. Since our group was small we found ourselves in the parish rectory. It was quite a spread we were all served: fish, chicken, beans, pork and several kinds of vegetables, and all topped off with neapolitan ice cream.

While our journey to the church took only 45 minutes the ride home was just shy of two hours. First we stopped at our minor seminary to drop off two of the young priests who were staying there during the first mass days. One of the two was now assigned to the minor seminary staff. As I understand it, some, but not all, of the 11 newly ordained have their assignments; the rest are pending.

Waiting for the ferry

Our next stop was at what I thought was a river, but I was told: It is a lake and we have been on an island. It took me a couple of minutes to learn that we were waiting for the ferry to cross over and pick us up to take us across. It was suppose to save us about a half hour in travel time. The ferry could hold maybe three or four cars and a couple of  auto rickshaws. The people ride in the boat while the vehicles, and some brave souls ride on the platform held up by two canoe-like boats on which the platform rests. It took all of five minutes to cross the river. Getting vehicles off the barge is a little tricky.

Once back on the road we made one more stop to get some bakery and have ice cream and coffee. The guests at our house also bought ice cream for tonight’s supper — though I don’t recall if they bought it here or elsewhere. Br. Xavier got us back to the house around 4:30 p.m.

Our internet connection went down in the morning after the electricity went out and did not return the rest of the day. I watched the students play cricket. They told me cricket and volleyball are very popular in India. Our theological students have had the best volleyball team the last few years in intramural competition.

We had adoration at 6:00 p.m. and supper at 8:00 p.m. This was the first opportunity I had to sit with the students at table. All the other meals here we had many guests and they were put at one table. I learned that Wayne Jenkins became known as Fr. Ice Cream when he was here as every Sunday he would purchase ice cream for the evening meal. As I noted tonight’s ice cream was complements of Fr. Aji, who is now the pastor of  Sacred Heart Parish in Eluru and was here for some of the first masses in Kerala. With today’s first mass in the books there is one more to go, and it will be celebrated on August 28 in Delhi a mere three days train ride from here.

August 22, 2011 – Parting Day

Life is back to normal at the house of philosophy. We rose at 5:00 a.m. for morning prayers at 5:30 a.m. followed by mass at 5:45 a.m. After mass there is quiet/meditation time until breakfast at 7:00 a.m. and right after breakfast the students bike off to school. They’ll return home at 1:30 p.m. I was told at breakfast they have 45-minute classes with five minutes between classes. After the first three periods there is a tea break lasting 15 minutes. A few things have survived the exodus of the British some 62 years ago.

As for my exodus I’ll leave the house around 10:00 a.m. giving myself about two hours at the airport before leaving for Mumbai on Kingfisher Airlines. All of my long trips have been by air so I have not had the train experience. I think it was Gandhi who said: If you want to know India you must ride the train. Maybe next time if I have the opportunity to come back once again.

I am now at the Cochin (Kochi) airport with about a two hour wait for my flight to Mumbai. The ticket issued in February listed take off for 12:25 p.m., but as often happens in that long a period between buying the ticket and using it the time has changed and take off will now be at 12:55 p.m. It shortens my stay in Mumbai just a bit and adds a little more time here. No matter how I look at it the day is a long one. My flight this evening does not leave until 11:00 p.m. (trusting it is on time) and I’ve been up since 5:00 a.m.

I will return to the Hyatt near the airport as they have a special rate for waiting flyers like me. For 3,000 rupees I get the use of the hotel and a chance to take a shower and relax. I’ll probably try to be at the airport by 8:30 p.m. I am one of those flyers who much prefers spending time at the airport rather then rushing to it at the last moment.  I will try on my flight home to give a few parting thoughts on the past two weeks.

I’m now in Mumbai having transferred from the domestic airport to the Hyatt Hotel  where I am making use of what they call a gold pass. For 2,900 rupees I get a meal and use of the sauna (shower) and business center and a ride to the international airport at 8:15 p.m.

I landed at the domestic terminal around 2:45 p.m., just a few minutes early. I think we were a bit delayed in landing as I ‘m sure we made one of those 360° circles airplanes do when they are in a holding pattern. Well still landed early! I picked up my luggage and saw there were services to call a cab and as I was not familiar with this airport I made use of it. You tell the woman where you want to go and she calls the cab and send ssomeone out with you to wait for your cab and give instructions as to where you are going. The service cost 50 rupees. The cab ride over was for 74 rupees. Remember the exchange rate is about 44 rupees to the dollar. Thus I was charged about $1.14 for the service and $1.68 plus tip.

I have an app on my phone and iPad that allows me to check on flights, so I made use of it to check on the incoming Continental fight status. CO #48 left 14 minutes late from EWR (Newark) and will arrive about 15 minutes early at BOM (Mumbai). That should mean we depart on time at 11:00 p.m. I plan on being at the airport at 8:30 p.m. — always give yourself plenty of time since no matter how you look at it you are in a waiting mode.

I did make one glaring error that fortunately I discovered in time to alert the folks back home. I kept telling them I would land in Milwaukee on August 22 (today) at 11:47 a.m., but it will actually be on the 23rd of August. Don’t know how I could have thought we could leave here at 11:00 p.m. on the 22nd and make it home by noon on the same day even with the 10 1/2 hour time difference. At least I caught the error in time and have alerted the SCJs in Franklin.

August 23, 2011 – Back on Home Soil

I’m back in the United States marking time in Newark after many hours of flying or waiting. Now it is about a four-hour wait until the last leg of a long journey starting in Cochin and ending in Milwaukee at 11:47 a.m. (local time).

It has been a wonderful journey. I just finished an e-mail to Tom Fix and told him all the stories about India that I have heard over the years were just that stories. I realize I was not in India during the hottest months, which I’m told are May and June when it can rival summer time Phoenix for temperatures, but with humidity — it’s not a dry heat.

On Sunday evening when sitting at table with six of the philosophy students I was asked to give my impressions of India. More or less this is what I told them: I liked the food, but if pushed what I liked best were the vegetables. Some were not familiar to me and others, while some common in the United States, were prepared differently.  All were tasty and interesting. I did not find the food to be too hot, or at least what was served while I was around. However, I did not use several of the hot spices that were available.

I liked the people and certainly enjoyed true SCJ hospitality. I told the philosophy students as I was giving my thanks that during my 12 years on the general council I experienced SCJ hospitality from many places around the world. True the hospitality is practiced in ways conditioned by the local culture, but hospitality is truly there around the congregation.

At the moment most of what goes on in India centers around formation houses. That’s the common history around the congregation and certainly was the history of our province. They now have three parishes (each with mission stations) and are soon to open a spiritual center in Kerala.

I did tell the students the driving was stressful at times. You just have to trust your  that driver knows what he is doing. I think the Italian principal applies: The rule of thumb is “I’ll take care of myself.”

I’ll add a bit more once I get home and have a chance to rest. I’m into the second day of travel and I am feeling it. Can’t wait to see my old friend, as I was fond of saying when on the general council. My old friend is my own bed and a good night’s sleep.

August 23, 2011 – Closing Thoughts

I came back to the office to a pile of mail and messages on the phone’s answering machine. That, based on years of experience, is the one downer of a long trip I could do without. Fortunately with the development of cell phones and e-mail the pile and message list is a lot smaller then it could be.

I met with Bill Pitcavage, who was acting provincial, to go over issues that took place in my two-week absence.  There was one major crisis in which Bill earned his stripes. Thanks to the internet I was able to keep abreast of the situation as well as other more mundane items that are part and parcel of the office of provincial.

I feel graced for having had this opportunity. It isn’t often you get to see a young SCJ entity working its way toward becoming an independent region and on to the status of a province in our congregation. There are certainly challenges ahead for the new leadership once it has been named by the general administration. For some time to come formation will be at the heart of SCJ Indian activity as it slowly builds itself and branches out into ministry.

I know there is a desire for parish work, but I hope the SCJs of India will try to be creative and look for other avenues of pastoral work, as well as becoming missionaries to other parts of Asia and perhaps beyond. If asked for my advice about parish ministry I would quote something Bishop Virginio used to say when he was general superior. When we take on the responsibility for a parish we take on the style of diocesan ministry. What we need to do is discover a Dehonian style of parish pastoral ministry. I wish them well and will pray often for their success.

Finally, I was often asked would I come back to India? I have no idea when and if that will take place, but I assured them I would gladly come back. It would be nice in a couple of years to see where the development has taken them, where the young men I watched ordained and participated in their first masses, find themselves. I hope the enthusiasm of their first days is alive and well. It would be wonderful to see where the students in philosophy and theology are now along the road to discovering God’s call in their lives. It certainly would be interesting to see how the new leadership has brought a truly Indian way of doing things.

And to the reader I hope you found something in these pages to take inspire you to support our SCJs in India, especially through your prayers and interest. I am pleased that our US Province has taken on the responsibility of assisting financially our SCJ Indian district. It is one way we keep alive the spirit of missionary activity at a time when our personnel are growing older and fewer vocations are our reality. Keeping that missionary spark alive I do believe is so very important. Perhaps these pages have helped, if only a bit.