“Why do you go to India?”

Fr. Tom with the family of one of the Indian SCJs.

Fr. Tom Cassidy returned to India last week; each year he spends several months in the district assisting with the formation program. Periodically we will share excerpts from his daily journal on the province blog. It seems fitting that this time we begin with Fr. Tom’s reflection on why he goes to India. He writes:

“I am often asked when I’m back in Franklin: “Why do you go to India?” Now there is no simple answer to that question but a partial answer hit me this weekend when visiting the shrine of Br. Joseph Thambi. It’s between here and Vijayawada, about 40 kilometers (24 miles) by car or foot. I say foot because three of our brothers and a friend and fellow student at Vijnananilayam Institute of Philosophy and Religion walked from here to there. They left on Sunday evening at 10:30 pm and arrived around 6:00 am Monday morning. This has been an annual trip for Br. Jesu Prasada Sidella (3rd year) as well as Deacon Mary Babu Kota and Br. Sakharov Adam Nanduri (3rd year). Servant of God Thambi Joseph is revered as a holy man who died 73 years ago. He was the first of the Capuchin priests in the area and helped to strengthen the faith in this part of Andhra Pradesh.

Prayer in the midst of a festival

The three-day festival for Joseph Thambi is part state or county fair and part religious festival. Rides, trinkets, games and food are available to those who come perhaps less for the religious experience and more for the entertainment. On the religious side, Mass is celebrated just about every hour with the highlight being the Bishop’s Mass on the closing day. The highlight for the true pilgrims is a chance to pray at Thambi’s tomb and receive a blessing from one of the Capuchin priests on duty. It’s a taxing day for them. One of our SCJs spends most of his day giving blessings as well. I claim he comes home with blessing elbow, an affliction akin to tennis elbow.

I find that the chaos has an appeal all its own. In the midst of all that is going on each person cuts out a turf or space or activity that appeals to him or her at any given moment. The hawker tolerates the pilgrim on his/her knees, the pilgrim shuts out as best he/she can the chaos all around and somehow gains a bit of interior silence and peace. Saints rub shoulders with sinners! Sellers offer their products to anyone — saint, sinner, pilgrim, hawker, etc. — just as long as the rupees add up by the end of the day.

The religious side of the experience is not devoid of its contribution to the chaos and noise. Indians love loud music, and all through the grounds –– sometimes faint and sometimes glaring –– you hear the music, prayers and preaching of the Mass being said in the large outdoor space set up to handle the throngs of pilgrims, some who come to stay for all three days of the festival. For someone from the Milwaukee area the closest experience would be a crowded hot summer day at Summerfest [summer music festival in Milwaukee]

Maybe what I’m really trying to say is that in a land with more than a billion people, each person must find his/her way to maintain the balance life requires of us. Watching people achieve that is both intriguing and instructive and is part of the reason India fascinates me.

 

American, Vietnamese and Catholic

Fr. Ed and Henry with one of the formation communities in Vietnam

For two weeks in December Novices Henry Nguyen and Paul (Phong) Hoang traveled to the District of Vietnam with Fr. Ed Kilanski, SCJ, provincial superior of the US Province. Fr. Ed went to Vietnam to give a retreat and to meet with Fr. Francis Vu Tran, SCJ (district superior), about collaborative projects for the future. Fr. Ed invited the novices to join him so that they could learn more about the SCJ congregation (Dehonians) outside of the United States. 

For Henry, it was the first time that he visited the country of his parents’ birth. While there, he met relatives, including his grandmother, for the first time.  During his first week in Vietnam he wrote a reflection that was published on the province website. Click here to read it.

Back home, Henry reflected more fully on his time in Vietnam:

Henry

During our trip to Vietnam I often allowed myself to be “moved by the Spirit” (Constitution #23). Not only was this trip an intercultural experience for me but also an interreligious one as it reminded me of my time in my “Religious Experience in Context” class at Catholic Theological Union.

As we traveled around Vietnam, I saw how religion and culture intertwined. An experience that I had while at my Bác Yến’s house was praying for our ancestors by lighting incense and praying for them at the family’s altar in the living room. This is where I connected religion and culture as I was a Vietnamese Catholic and this was more Vietnamese with perhaps a Buddhist influence.

As I was mentally preparing to depart from Vietnam my family asked when I was coming back to see them. I can’t help but reminisce about the limited yet well-filled time that I had with my family. I am really thankful for the experience. I do not know when our paths will cross again, yet I know that although separated by an ocean, we are still very connected through prayer and God.

Aside from being immersed in my own culture and religious traditions, I continued to have the opportunity to be immersed in something unknown to me. As part of my novitiate year, I wanted to explore more of God’s wonder and beauty, and I was able to do just that as we visited northern Vietnam. We went to Hồ Hoàn Kiếm (Hoàn Kiếm Lake), which was filled with radiant beauty and a rich history of Vietnam. I visited Vịnh Hạ Long (Ha Long Bay); being there reminded me of the natural beauty that God bestows on all of us. Nhà Thờ Chính Tòa Phát Diệm (Phát Diệm Cathedral) was a destination that tourists often visit to see the architecture that is a blend of Vietnamese and European styles. We stopped by Hỏa Lò Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton, to see a glimpse of American history in Vietnam.

As I was visiting “someone else’s garden” I found comfort and security as no one questioned who I was or where I came from as long as I paid my respects and acted accordingly. It was a continued sense of welcome and hospitality at places like Chùa Một Cột (One Pillar Pagoda) and the Perfume Temple. We also had the chance to visit the largest Buddhist temple in Vietnam, Chùa Bái Đính (Bái Đính Temple). We saw visitors from all over the world there.

Henry had coconuts fresh from the tree, just as his father had as a boy

Candidates Huy and Thanh took me to our Dehon 2 community where I had an experience similar to what my dad had while growing up in Vietnam, which was having a fresh coconut that was just cut down from a coconut tree. Thank you, Thanh, for allowing me to experience that. As Dehon 1 was preparing for a Christmas gathering, the Dehon 2 community was getting ready for their own Christmas event that included neighbors joining them in their festivities.

Just before we left Vietnam (literally hours before we got ready to leave for the airport) the Dehon 1 formation community hosted a Christmas gathering for neighbors and benefactors. Over 100 people showed up for the joyous occasion. Dehon 1 – thank you for inviting me to sing and dance with you on stage, although I did not practice as much and as hard as you guys did. I was and still am amazed at your time and dedication in bringing this annual event to the community.

As we headed back to the United States on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, I reflected on the readings for the day. The Prophet Isaiah said in the first reading, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me” and I truly believed that the Spirit was with us as we journeyed through Vietnam, a place that quickly became familiar to me.

As a closing note, I reflected on the second reading, St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, to “Rejoice always.” Although I was sad to leave Vietnam, including its good food, and especially the people whom I met and bonded with, I must rejoice for having had this encounter with them. As I “retain what is good” I take this back with me as I continue my novitiate year.

I am now back at the Sacred Heart Novitiate, recognizing the three distinctive identities that I carry (Vietnamese, American and Catholic). I know that it sometimes can be hard to carry these identities together, but as long as I am willing and open, I can continue to be moved by the Spirit. I believe that it will help me to discern and do God’s will.

I do again want to thank Fr. Ed Kilianski, provincial superior of the U.S. Province, for his invitation to us novices to accompany him on his first trip to Asia.

And, thank you to the District of Vietnam for your hospitality! Một ngày nao, chúng ta sẽ gặp lại nhau, nhưng bây giờ luôn trong cầu nguyện. (One day, we will meet again, but for now, in prayer).

I can certainly say that my first trip to Vietnam will not be my last!

A innocent hand; a smile held dear in the heart

Br. Jose Antony Arackal

Br. Jose Antony Arackal, SCJ, is one of two Indian scholastics studying at the international theology house, in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuela is a country currently suffering from significant economic, social and political instability. It is with the backdrop of such crises that Br. Jose shares the following reflection:

It was a Friday, just a few weeks ago. I went for the evening parish Mass at 6:00. It coincided with  charity work for people on the street, work done precisely because of the current situation in the country. My motive is not to make any judgment on the political system of the country, rather I just want to describe what happened to me on this particular day; a personal experience.

I was in the church 20 minutes before the celebration and made use of the time by greeting people; slowly this took me outside of the church. There I saw a multitude of people. To my surprise, it was neither a procession nor had they come for Mass, but they were out there looking for their basic necessities. Those tiresome faces told the whole story. Each face had a story to tell about the numbers of meals they had not eaten. Their only need at that moment was a spoon of anything that would satisfy their hunger. There were young and old as well as little ones with their moms. Each week the number of people continues to increase said Fr. Wilfred Corniel, SCJ, the parish priest. They come from far and wide for the food.

I saw volunteers running up and down, organizing the food. The people entering the church for the celebration paused, looked and passed by. I saw some of them even holding their noses. I confess that the air smelt different. The people’s voices did not match anything like the church choir. Their voice was of a real need born of hunger.

I saw many small boxes of food on a table in a little room at the entrance of the church that were contributed by many generous hearts. A volunteer was counting those boxes. I stood near him and wondered how many were there. I asked him “is it sufficient for all?”

“Jesus always provides for us” he responded with a smile.

I replied “Amen” affirming with conviction. But I am sure that he did not hear what was said because of the noise of the people asking for food. I moved on but then abruptly turned around when I felt somebody pulling on my finger. “Who is that?” I thought. I looked down and found a little girl with a shabby dress smiling, ¿Cuándo vamos a comer? (When are we gonna eat?) It felt like a punch to my face.

Hey! Wake up! All this happened in a fraction of a minute. My heart melted looking at her starving face. Her hands were dirty. Perhaps she had gone to search for food in the dump, I thought. It is a common scene now on the streets:  people searching for scraps in the dumps. I bent down and started a conversation with her and she told me that, no he comido nada hoy. (I have eaten nothing today). I took her to the volunteers and they gave her a box. I could see her little shining face with her missing tooth smile.

I hold that image, that smile, dear in my heart.

Lord, when did we see you hungry?” (Mt 25; 37). Yes, Jesus provides us always an opportunity to see His face in others… in a smile and in an innocent hand.

“Renew your SCJ mission to the world!”

During the weekend of October 6, several members of Divine Heart Seminary’s class of 1967 came together for an informal reunion at Sacred Heart Monastery. Fr. Bernie Rosinski, SCJ, one of their teachers, was asked to be the main celebrant at a mass they shared together on Saturday. Fr. Bernie shares his homily on the blog:

Fr. Bernie

The background to today’s event and the details of what led up to it, you have already talked about over the past two days in your conversations around small tables, on lounge chairs or bar stools. But here you are all gathered now, ostensibly to celebrate the 50th anniversary of your graduation in 1967 from Divine Heart Seminary – an institution that no longer exists.

Since “CD” has been defunct for 38 years now I have been puzzling through why you came to this reunion. It can’t be nostalgia. Over the past 50 years each of you has gone his separate way: an education beyond high school, maybe military service, probably married and with a family of children and grandchildren; you entered a profession or acquired a livelihood in or near your hometown or somewhere else in this vast country or ours. During the course of these past 50 years you have faced crises, stresses, and life’s usual curveballs: job loss, new job, relocation, natural disasters, illness, and possibly death of loved ones. These things that happen to us over the years in the course of God’s providence, all these factors, tend to turn our attention away from youthful and past things, to spin us off into the small worlds we have made for ourselves.

Small worlds change and rock for a bit, though, when there is an occasion, an anniversary, a milestone. We become pensive, meditative, even contemplative. We mull over certain highlights from our past, the directions we took, the achievements and accomplishments for which we were given credit, and the people who helped us achieve and accomplish then. A 50th reunion is just one such occasion.

You can imagine, then, why I am so curious as to why you have come to this 50th anniversary reunion. What power, what energy, what force, what memories brought you here? High school is so distant, so passé (a nod to Fr. van der Peet), so long-gone that surely it could not have provided the incentive, the motive to spend time and money to travel great distances to be here.

Now one thing I never did, or at least I hope I never did, was to think that Donaldson students were stupid. After my days at “CD” ended as a faculty member, former students and graduates have told me countless tales of how they managed to do things like sneak beer onto the grounds, to sneak liquor out of the SCJ rec room, and all kinds of other surprising escapades (I may even learn more of them at this reunion). And all the time that we SCJs and our lay associates thought we were educating you in the accepted “system” of things, “forming” you as we used to call it, you were educating yourselves in how to beat “the system.”  Everything I have said up till now, as I am sure you can guess since you are not stupid, is leading up to a point. I am setting a scene which I would now like to explore with you. The WHY? Why are you here at this anniversary reunion?

You may recall these familiar words: Leo John Dehon, immolation, oblation, reparation, and love; you heard them many times in sermons, homilies, conferences, retreats, and off-the-cuff classroom remarks. Fr. Dehon as Founder, you will recall, called upon the SCJs and all those associated with them to make a difference in the world through love. In his own words: all were to establish the kingdom of God in souls and in society through love. Lay people were to be the ferment, the yeast; the world was their proper domain. That was the great teaching of Fr. Dehon which anticipated, by many years, the great lesson from Vatican Council II.

As Dehonians we SCJs had educational goals in mind for the students who came to us that went beyond training in languages, literature, math, science, history, and the other humanities. There was more than soccer and basketball, intramurals, self-discipline, and responsibility for housework and farm work. There was more than the social graces of respectful treatment of others whether on or off campus. In all these activities you interacted with each other, learned from each other, modeled for each other, and bonded with each other. In the same vein, for better or worse, we SCJs sought to be models for you, to exemplify, by our behavior toward our fellow SCJs and toward you our students, those principles of living that we learned from Fr Dehon which we attempted to translate into respect, honor, esteem, affection, caring, and yes even love. We sincerely wanted each of our students to shine like stars in the sky, like diamonds in the sky, knowing full well that most of you did not have a true call to be religious or priests. Deep down we SCJs knew that you, future priest or future layperson, were the only way we could bring Dehon’s message to the world. You had to be our words, our agents out in the world. You were our hope that through you we could make the world a better place.

One of my favorite James Bond movies is the film Diamonds are Forever. Blofelt, the villain, is stealing diamonds so he can send a satellite dish into the sky in which the stolen diamonds serve as reflectors of sunlight onto the earth. Each diamond is singular and unique, but when paired and arranged in the satellite dish, each singular diamond in the matrix reflects light conjointly with the rest of the matrix, with greatly augmented power and force, upon the world. I have always seen that movie image as a metaphor for God’s dealings with the world, God’s own light, after Jesus’ own words in the gospel of John: I am the way, the truth, and the light. The Book of Daniel melds together Jesus’ words plus the Bond movie image in this way: Those who are wise, who lead many to righteousness, shall shine like the brightness of the sky, like the stars forever and ever. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians makes the same point. You, graduates, jubilarians, were meant to be those stars, those diamonds, those lights in the sky that were to shine down on the world and lead many to righteousness.

Recognizing what you received then and what you bestowed upon each other by yourselves and with our help, the reason you came here was, I surmise, to recapture that spirit of Fr. Dehon, to burnish that brightness, and to renew that mission. At least, this is my assessment of the motives and the reasons that brought here back here. Something stuck with you. Something meant something to you.

To me, the words found in today’s reading from St. Paul

whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious (Phil. 4:6-9)

sparkle and glitter like a single diamond with many-facets. These are the virtues that you must  bring to bear on our world; this is what you must reflect and shower on our desperate world. Reverting again to that Bond movie image, like diamonds in the sky mirroring God’s light on the world, you must illumine that same world with your light, teach it with your virtues of truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness and graciousness, and warm it with your hearts. This has to be your mission and apostolate until the moment you face your creator. This has to be how you practice immolation, reparation, and oblation – in love.

I call upon you, therefore, to renew your SCJ mission to the world. To quote St. Paul once again from today’s reading: keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and – to absolutely avoid any pretentiousness on my part – I would substitute: what you have learned and received and heard and seen in us, in you, in each other… And for my mistakes and our mistakes, forgive us. God bless you and yours.

Our SCJ student “mud slingers”

Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, writes from India (note that in India students who are in vows but not ordained are referred to as “brothers”):

Last Saturday was our second Social Action Day. Br. Manish Nayak, SCJ (3rd year student — second from the right in the photo above in a red t-shirt) suggested that his group and others, if they so desired, should help the villagers of Palagudem in the construction of their substation church. Manish and Br. Kiran Kumar Silarapu, SCJ (1st year) have been doing their Sunday ministry in Palagudem. He pointed out that the villagers are poor and were trying to do most of the work themselves. I believe three out of our five student meditation groups agreed to go with him to work on the church.

Manish let the kitchen know that those going to Palagudem would not be back for lunch but would be home sometime in the afternoon. The villagers would provide a meal for our brothers. The church construction is in an early stage and the help the villagers desired is what I called the need for “mud slingers.” The task of the day was to prepare the foundation for the interior floor of the church. This meant water and sand needed to be mixed. In some ways it was turning young men into little boys. We all know how young boys love to play and splash in mud! This was a dream come true for our mud slingers.

A very common Indian construction technique is to fill a foundation with sand and then force water through it to compact the sand so that when finished the floor will not sink or tilt. Anyone who comes to our refectory at CDN will note that we do have a problem with the foundation sinking on the eastern side of the room.

From what I was able to gather the people of Palagudem were very appreciative of our help and especially to see some old faces. Sunday ministry brothers from past years were welcomed and feted as long lost friends by children and adults alike. It was alumni week with fond memories of past times and funny moments of brothers who’ve carried out their ministry to the people of Palagudem.

While the mud slingers were working hard under the hot midday sun another group was visiting with the residence of the Missionaries of Charity’s home for the mentally challenged. This is a project of the brothers of the Missionaries of Charity who take care of a group of mentally challenged men of various ages and abilities.

Novices become a part of “tiyospaye” at St. Joe’s

Fr. Byron, Henry, Fr. Mark, Phong and Fr. Ed

This past weekend (September 15-16) Novices Henry Nguyen and Paul Phong Hong attended the American Indian Day Powwow at St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, SD. Henry wrote the following reflection on the experience:

It all started some time ago when Fr. Christianus Hendrik, SCJ, extended an invitation to the novitiate class to visit South Dakota and to attend the powwow at St. Joseph’s Indian School. At the time I didn’t even know what a “powwow” was.

The weekend came and flew by and I had a great time! Even though it was only for a few days, this experience opened both my heart and mind. Fellow novice Phong (Paul) Hoang and I got a glimpse of South Dakota when we attended the 41st annual powwow with Fr. Byron Haaland (novice master), Fr. Mark Fortner, and Fr. Ed Killianski (provincial superior).

Young powwow dancers

At St. Joe’s we became “tiyospaye,” a part of the extended family of St. Joe’s. The spirit of hospitality was well presented as we were welcomed by the SCJs who serve in South Dakota: Frs. Anthony Kluckman, Bernard Rosinski, Christianus Hendrk, Joseph Dean and Vincent Suparman. SCJ Frs. Tom Westhoven and Gary Lantz also travelled to attend the powwow.

We spent the weekend immersed in Lakota traditions and multiple cultural activities. At the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center we got a snippet of the history of the Lakota people and how the SCJs came to South Dakota and established St. Joe’s. We also had lots of conversations with St. Joe’s students, teachers, houseparents, and staff. Other visitors of this powwow included family, friends, and benefactors of St. Joe’s. Over 75% of the attendees were visiting St. Joe’s for the first time, and for many it was also their first powwow experience. We saw a wonderful testament of benefactors’ love for the students when we learned that they had provided 300 pairs of matching sports shoes!

At the powwow I was able to feel Dehonian spirituality from those who were houseparents, teachers and staff at St. Joe’s, as well as in the benefactors. They all love with an open heart and mind. They come to serve those who are in need and most importantly, are for the youth, as seen in our mission statement. We heard stories from parents and grandparents on why their child was attending St. Joseph’s, also stories from houseparents as to why they provide their gifts and talents for the children. The stories were touching and impactful.

Visitors were able to participate in multiple activities such as dream catcher crafting with the help of the students, Lakota hand games, and a preview of the dance presentation that was to be presented at the powwow (including grass, traditional, and fancy dance).

The new Health and Family Services center was open to visitors. As I toured St. Joe’s I saw that the school’s motto is “developing the mind, body, heart, and spirit of the Lakota (Sioux)” for 90 years. Many of the students and alumni shared stories of how being at St. Joe’s influenced and changed their lives. Although St. Joe’s is primarily a grade school, there is also a high school program for children to live at St. Joe’s while attending Chamberlain High School.

Part of the students’ education includes Native American Studies and life skills classes that teach about nutrition, cooking, budgeting, and other skills to prepare students for the future.

Saturday was the main event, with the powwow dance and Indian drum group competitions. Over 80 youth participated in the dance competition and multiple groups competed in the drum contest. After the powwow, Mass was celebrated at the Our Lady of Sioux Chapel where Fr. Anthony presided. This was another experience to witness the Lakota tradition in Mass. One word: beautiful.

Before leaving South Dakota we didn’t want to miss seeing Dignity. Dignity is a statue of a woman who stands high and tall right next to the Missouri River honoring the Lakota and Dakota people.

I’ll be back to explore more of what South Dakota offers. Pilamaya – Thank you! It’s not a goodbye, but a “see you later” South Dakota.

 

Reflecting on community life India

Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, writes from India:

Community meeting at Christu Dehon Nivas

On Monday night after supper the five meditation groups met to discuss various aspects of religious life: community, prayer, work, human relationships, etc. One or two of the groups went to almost 11:00 pm in their discussions.

The setting for the community meeting was the remodeled TV room which now serves as a conference hall and where we also watch our movies. A roll down screen with a ceiling mounted projector and air-conditioning were added. Christu Dehon Nivas is often chosen as a place for district conferences and ongoing formation programs. These are sometimes held in May or early June during vacation time — the hottest time of year in Andra Pradesh. A couple of years ago Fr.  Stefan Tertünte, SCJ, from the Dehon Study Center in Rome was the presenter. He just about wilted away in the heat and that was the genesis of looking towards providing a place where meetings could be held without worrying about temperatures approaching 120 degrees. I’m sure that Fr. Charles Brown, SCJ, of the US Province will appreciate an air-conditioned conference room for his presentations when he comes next May to give a course on St. Paul to our brothers.

Our rector, Fr. Michael Augustine, SCJ, serves as moderator of the community meeting.  Each of the five meditation groups was asked to report on its discussions after which others could add comments not covered by the groups. Fr. Michael responded with comments and observations we (formation directors) had about the community since last we met.

One example from last night: the  brothers (students) rotate as homilist four days a week and at the end of Mass feedback is given by the community. More often than not it is the same few brothers willing to share their praise and suggestions to the homilist. The tweak that went into affect this morning: from now on the homilist is to pick three brothers before Mass to give their feedback. If this morning is any indication it should work much better than our old system.

Fr. Michael also covered some topics where the brothers could improve, such as paying more attention to light housework duties after Mass and before breakfast. Little things –– yes ––  but important to a well-run house.

These meetings are not only about things that need improvement but also about praising the many things that went well between meetings by offering thanks or praise to different people for their contributions to the community. Along that line I think Br. Meghanandha (Mega) Chakravarthi Bandanadham, SCJ (3rd year) made a good point: “Often it is not only the brothers out in front that deserve our thanks and praise but the brothers behind the scenes that take their turns, such as with this year’s Feast of the Sacred Heart celebration and the on-going formation program on Founder’s Day.”  Well said!