Last August I had the immense pleasure of visiting India again for a month – my second visit. I went there to experience its people’s life and rich culture, to listen to them, to learn from their wisdom, to understand them and particularly to meet my fellow SSS religious.
Ever since I read the life of St. Francis Xavier as a boy, I had a special interest in India. After visiting there in 2003, I wanted to go back and see more. India’s civilisation is as ancient as that of the Middle East, with a splendid and enduring culture. Despite growing economic development, the people of India have not lost their ancient values – I was deeply impressed by their love of education and their determination to succeed, their respect for people of all ages, their ability to endure hardship and make sacrifices, their deep spirituality and peaceful ways, and above all the warmth of their hospitality.
I began my visit to India in Kottayam in Kerala by attending the Christening of the son of an Indian couple who are friend’s of mine in Dublin. They gave me a great welcome, and conferred a rare honour on me – they called the boy Patrick!
I was struck by the people’s deep faith in Kerala and their fidelity to the practice of their faith. Their fervour was particularly evident at the great shrines: the Shrine of Sr. Alphonsa and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Ransom, commonly known as Vallarpadam Church. I also saw some of the beautiful scenery of Kerala – I was particularly impressed by a boat trip on the famous Backwater.
After Kerala, I went on to Tamil Nadu. I spent three weeks living among the poor in our parish in Olaikuda, Rameswaram – they took me to their hearts and made me feel so much at home. Materially poor, they were rich in faith, family values and hospitality. Fr. Ernest and Fr. Peter are showing them that the Church cares about them, and are giving them leadership, hope and a voice which they did not have before the SSS came there – they are deeply appreciative of what the Fathers are doing there.
Fr. Ernest and Fr. Peter looked after me so well, and were so sensitive and responsive to anything I needed. I look forward to going back there again. My visits to the Mount of St. Thomas, where the great Apostle shed his blood for Christ, and the Shrine of the great martyr St. John de Britto, were graced and sacred moments to be forever cherished.
My visits to the Hindu temples brought home to me the deep and ancient spirituality of the Indian people, a spirituality that is steeped in their culture.
One does not truly experience a country, unless one experiences a family in their own home – I had that privilege when I received a truly warm and emotional welcome to the home of the family of Fr. Ravi Bosco, whom we know well in my province.
The other highlights of my time in India were my visits to the other SSS communities. I was impressed by the work being done for the poor in the parishes of Manurpet and Kamarajapuram, especially the education of the young.
Some of the most significant events of my time in India were my visits to the houses of formation – the Postulancy in Chennai, the Novitiate in Agashi and the Scholasticate in Pune, where I received overwhelming welcomes. The participation of these zealous young men in the Celebration of the Eucharist, their sharing of their spiritual journey, their idealism and their love of the Eucharist was truly inspiring. Their spirit of self-sacrifice ̧and their willingness to endure difficulties, especially the poor state of the Scholasticate building, moves me to appeal to the wider Congregation to support their formation projects and programmes – I think it goes without saying that formation is a priority in the Congregation, and deserves its support above all other considerations, particularly from provinces who are poor in vocations but richer in material resources – for such generosity, the Lord will surely reward them with vocations themselves. Let us rejoice that so many young Asians want to proclaim the Eucharistic mission of St. Peter Julian, and let us show that joy in a very concrete way by supporting them.Thanks to you all, my Indian brothers for giving me such a rich experience of commitment and religious life, and to you, Fr. Gnanesekar, Provincial, for the great kindness with which you welcomed me to your province. I will always carry an undying memory of your beloved country.
I know now that the experience of the life and mission of the Congregation is only fully complete through interaction between provinces, through visiting each other if possible, or at least learning more about each other, taking a greater interest in each other, exchanging spiritual and cultural insights and responding to each other’s needs in concrete ways.
We can be confident that the Eucharistic torch of Fr. Eymard is being rekindled and carried flaming into the second century of the Congregation by our Asian disciples and apostles of the Eucharist.