Birthday rituals in India

 

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Fr. Tom Cassidy, who assists in the Indian District for several months each year, writes about a recent birthday celebration in India:

Birthdays are important events anywhere in the world and are certainly celebrated by our Indian SCJs. There is a house ritual to the experience. It starts with door decorations, prayers at Mass and morning prayer for the birthday honoree, and concludes with the presentation of a cake, flowers and hugs from all, along with the traditional birthday song. It kicks off with a few words from the rector (or in his absence, his delegate) on some of the positive qualities of the honoree in helping to build and live our SCJ community life.

In the past, celebrations have included ice cream at supper provided by the honoree but that may have been suspended due to last November’s financial crisis or perhaps dropped all together, I’m not quite sure. Today we honored Br. Ravindra Uppuluri, SCJ (3rd year) who celebrates his 26th birthday. He comes from a nearby village no more than an hour from here.

Br. Ravindra receives birthday wishes

Br. Ravindra receives birthday wishes

I first met Ravindra when he was a novice in Nambur and at that time I knew him as “Emmanuel.” Soon after I got here he told me he preferred to be called “Ravindra.” Much to my surprise this morning the cake had his old name, a name I have not heard for almost three years.

Part of the birthday ritual is for the superior (or his delegate – me, in this case) to cut a small piece of cake and feed it the birthday honoree and for him to feed the superior, much like at a wedding in the United States.

Unfortunately, the cake was kept in the freezer and was as hard as a rock. Ravindra and I managed to cut small pieces and carry out the ritual as prescribed. We then sent the cake back to the kitchen to thaw and will enjoy it with lunch. Normally the cake would be sliced and served at breakfast.

Br. Franklin Victor, SCJ (3rd year), one of Ravindra’s classmates, confessed that the frozen cake was his doing, something got lost in translation. The instructions were to put the cake on top of the refrigerator but he took it to mean to put it in the freezer compartment at the top of the refrigerator. No harm done, just a delayed treat.

Getting out of the sacristies and going to the people!

Participants at the Dehonian Youth Mission experience in Brazil

Participants at the Dehonian Youth Mission experience in Brazil

 

“Entering each house was like opening a book and each page brought something completely different and new”

-Frater Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas

 

Frater Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas is in Brazil, where he is doing a ministerial year with a focus on youth ministry. On February 1 he will renew his temporary vows along with other SCJ students in Brazil. Frater Juancho writes:

The first phase of the Youth Dehonian Mission (M.D.J) took place from January 13-22 in Terra Boa, Parana, in Brazil. Every three years a different city is selected to be the host city of the Brazil Youth Dehonian Missionaries.

In 2017 the mission began in Terra Boa with 122 participants including priests, fraters (seminarians) and young lay Dehonians. Divided into nine communities of mission in different areas of the city we visited many houses to share stories, ideas, and the Word of God.

What an incredible experience it was to see the young Dehonians who had so much enthusiasm in their heart for this experience. In the same way, the people of Terra Boa were expecting our visits. The weather was very hot, but that did not stop us from our mission. Entering each house was like opening a book and each page brought something completely different and new. We met really humble people who opened not just the doors of their homes but their hearts to us as they shared with us their feelings.

To my surprise and joy, in one of the many houses that I visited I had the opportunity to meet and get to know a Buddhist family. I was impressed by the way they spoke about Catholics and even more how they spoke about Fr. Leo John Dehon. I was amazed by their knowledge about our founder as well as their love for Pope Francis. Furthermore, to make this experience even greater, I was invited to light incense as an offering to their ancestors.

“My ancestors are going to be very happy with your presence and offering,” they said to us.

This is how this mission also gave me an intercultural and inter-religious experience that taught me again to be more respectful and understanding of other cultures and religions. And that is what Pope Francis is doing by inviting us to engage in inter-cultural and religious dialogue with other people and faiths.

The youth mission banner

The youth mission banner

It is true that it was a tiring experience that included long walks, super-hot weather, and visits at night that included different celebrations. But these challenges were nothing compared to the gratitude we saw on the faces of the people we visited. Even days after our visit they remembered us and greeted us again with a nice smile and big hug every time we met. So I was able to realize how blessed I am because among all the people, among all the Dehonians around the world, I was there in Terra Boa, which in English means “Good Soil.” It is a perfect fit for the Gospel of Luke 8. 8: “Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.”

I was called to be part of this mission to awaken and nourish my missionary vocation. I was called to be a disciple and plant seeds in this soil so they could to produce good fruit.

I cannot say enough about the beautiful devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida here in Brazil, It was really wonderful to be present to pray the Rosary with a big group of men who every week gather to pray the Rosary. A total of 345 men gathered that day, and everyone came with an open heart and dedication to pray together.

However, during our mission, a dark and sad cloud covered the shining sun. Two of the members of the mission lost members of their families in a car accident. One of them, Danillo, who was part of my group doing visits, lost his father. It was a horrible experience for him and all of us. We tried to be present for him and we cried with him while gathering him into a big hug to show our love and support for him. The next day we also accompanied him and his family to the funeral. It was a sad situation. But I felt blessed again to be present for him in that moment and to witness how beautiful and powerful the human heart can be when we really understand and share the pain of others.

Continuing with these great experiences, we celebrated Mass with young people in the area. There was a huge crowd of young people who sang and danced to show their love to God. Learning the steps was not easy, but I did my best and I sang and danced along with them. I was even able to use what I learned years ago when I did some theater. I was invited to take a small part in a skit that we were going to present to the young people before Mass. I have to say that I was nervous, but the experience was super nice.

When the day came to say good bye to the people of Terra Boa there were many tears –– tears of joy, tears of satisfaction for our mission, tears of gratitude, and tears of sadness for leaving that place and the many friends we made.

Fr. Dehon taught us to get out of the sacristy and go to the people and Pope Francis has invited us to do the same thing. That invitation has a more powerful meaning in my heart now. We Dehonians understand the needs and suffering of others and we go to the people when they need us. But when I say Dehonians I include lay Dehonians who also understand the meaning of that invitation. And it was reflected not just in the young Dehonians but also in the many lay Dehonians who accompanied us during our days in Terra Boa.

My words of gratitude extend to the many people who were present and willing to give their time and dedication so we would have a place to stay and food to eat.

What a blessed experience it was. I can truly say my heart rejoiced in it and my vocation continues to grow each day. We have all been called to be present to others in many different ways, not only to show care and respect to people but to show the face of God to others and to be able to also see the face of God them. I was able to put in practice some of the pastoral skills that I have been learning. But it was also a great opportunity to learn even more about myself and learn more about how to be present to others and see the face of God in them.

I heard many times during our visits that our presence was a blessing for them. But my response was that they were a blessing to me because all the people I visited were a blessing to me on my journey and to my vocation. With all due respect, this experience actually taught us something that we could not learn in any classroom: how to reach out to people and really understand the meaning of getting out of the sacristy. We learned the theory of how to reach out to people in the classroom but this experience really taught us the reality of reaching out to others.

Muito Obrigado! Thank you so much Terra Boa, thank you to the missionaries and thank you God for your calling to live this experience of being Dehonian.

Frater Juancho and friends in Brazil

Frater Juancho and friends in Brazil

 

 

Funeral traditions in India

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Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India, where he spends several months of the year assisting with formation and administration in the district:

Yesterday our entire community, save two brothers not feeling well, traveled to Br. Sekhar Adam Nandudri’s village of Lingapuram for his mother’s funeral. It was scheduled for 3:00 pm but as we arrived late, and I’m sure a few others as well, including the assistant parish priest, the funeral did not begin until about 4:00 pm.

Our trip was dictated by the theologate schedule. Our brothers were excused from the last hour but by the time they all biked home and we had our lunch it was closer to 1:00 pm before we got underway. We managed to fit everyone into our van, truck and two motorcycles (one of ours and the other belonging to Fr. Jojappa Chinthapalli, pastor of Sacred Heart parish, Vempadu, who took on one of our brothers for the three-hour journey.

Funeral and burial customs vary around the world, and I’m sure even in India itself. Here in Andra Pradesh things are simple.

The mother’s took place around 6:30 in the morning and by late afternoon her coffin would rest in the earth. Between her death and the funeral Mass she was prepared for burial and while I’m not sure by whom I would suspect women relatives did so, perhaps assisted by women of the village. As India is a hot country a refrigerated glass casket is used to place the body in for what back home we would call a wake. This is placed just outside the house as houses are very small and could not accommodate the crowd.

When the assistant parish priest arrived we had a short prayer service and the placing of her body into a simple wooden casket covered with white cloth and black trimming. A garland of flowers was around her neck much like we place rosaries in the hands of our deceased Catholics in the States.

Most of the priests went to the church before the procession from the house to what really is called a sub-station chapel. It did not take long to hear them coming. Led by our two brother servers and accompanied by the beating of drums and the setting off of firecrackers the mourners moved slowly from the house to the chapel. The use of drums and fireworks seem to accompany almost any type of procession.

The Mass was what we would be used to in the States with a few minor differences. An introduction to the Mass is a regular feature of an Indian Mass. As Fr. Jojappa is our best Telugu speaker he gave it. The main celebrant of the Mass was our formation house rector, Fr. Michael Augustine. One surprising element was the lack of a homily. I was told that the people begin to relax once the body is in the ground.

In seven days there will be a memorial Mass at which time more family members and friends who could not make it to the funeral (as it was on the day of death and therefore very short notice) will be in attendance. The family will also be in a different stage of grieving then. I’m reminded what a good friend of mine Leo Graham, a psychologist, often said: Death is always a surprise.

The burial of Br. Adam's mother

The burial of Br. Adam’s mother

Adam’s mother’s death is a case in point. She had been bed ridden for over seven years and had been in declining health in recent months. Adam went home the day before her death and still it came as a surprise when she took her last breath around 6:30 am yesterday morning. Adam told me he was up with his mother all night and around 5:30 am fell asleep himself, he woke just before she breathed her last. Adam has several brothers and sisters including one brother who basically has been taking care of his mother since an accident crippled her.

The procession to the cemetery did not take long. I was a bit surprised (though probably should not have been) that traffic did not stop nor for that matter slow down as we walked down the highway with drums beating and fireworks going off in front of the procession and honking horns from in back as drivers impatient to be on their way whizzed by.

The burial service was conducted by Fr. Jojappa. At its conclusion but before the casket was closed for the last time Fr. Michael placed a second garland of flowers in the casket, and with the lid nailed shut several men lowered her into the ground. All present took a clump of dirt and threw it into the grave. Completely covering the grave would be left to others as the mourners left to take part in a simple meal.

Two interesting customs not found in the States caught my attention. Except for immediate family no women come to the cemetery. Consequently the crowd of mourners were men and young boys. There is, by the way, no attempt to shield the reality of death from the young. Second, upon arriving back at the house buckets of water were placed so the mourners could wash their legs and feet. This custom, as explained to me, is a precaution against any disease that might be present in the cemetery.

The meal was served as usual with the priests and religious sitting at a long table and men dishing out the rice and side dishes. There was not enough room for all at the table so many of the brothers sat wherever they could find a comfortable spot. Eating with hands and holding a plate is actually rather easy to do.

With the meal ended we said our goodbyes.

 

Pongal: a celebration of thanksgiving in India

Fr. Michael with members of the Franciscan Sisters of Aloysius Gonzaga during the Pongal celebrations

Fr. Michael with members of the Franciscan Sisters of Aloysius Gonzaga during the Pongal celebrations

Fr. Tom Cassidy is back in the Indian District where he spends several months each year assisting with formation and administration. As in the past we will share excerpts from his journal on the US Province blog. On Sunday he wrote:

Saturday was a day of mixing ancient and modern traditions. For me it began with Mass at the Holy Family Brothers’ minor seminary just down the road from us. I usually say Mass on Saturdays and Sundays since I now have an international drivers license and can drive myself to and from. It was good to get back as I enjoy the enthusiasm and fine singing of the young men, probably ranging in age from early to late teens. Following Mass and breakfast (my usual Indian breakfast of bread and peanut butter) I headed out for my walk. Getting it in early was a necessity given the plans for the rest of the day.

The community was preparing to celebrate the Tamil Nadu Pongal festival. [Pongal is a festival of thanksgiving] I believe it’s the first time our Christu Dehon Nivas community in Eluru is celebrating it. Fr. Michael Augustine, SCJ, our rector, was born and raised near Chennai in the heart of Tamil Nadu (the state). I’m not entirely sure we would have gone to the effort if it were not for the sisters’ postulant community next to our Nambur novitiate as both Sister James and Sister Augustine (the house superior) and their postulants come from Tamil Nadu and did much of the necessary work that goes into this harvest festival. While the feast comes out of the Hindu tradition, Christians have made adaptations to it.

Our local Pongal celebration began just a tad late as the sisters took the opportunity to visit the Holy Land, a local representation of the important religious sites and events in the life of Christ, run somewhat like an amusement park or museum. Our own Fr. Joseph Kasmir, SCJ (assistant novice master and treasurer of our Nambur community) served as their driver and took part in our house celebration.

Making the Pongal rice

Making the Pongal rice

Usually Catholic celebrations begin with Mass but the most important event of Pongal is the cooking the Pongal (a rice dish). A special pot just for the occasion is prepared and decorated; our own Br. Mary Babu Kota, SCJ (3rd year) decorated our pot with floral designs. As the Pongal cooks to perfection participants do a dance around the Pongal pot and when all is ready our Pongal pot was led in procession as the community processed into our temporary chapel. The Mass was celebrated in Tamil with Fr. Michael as our principal celebrant. It followed the Indian Rite.

Fr. Michael is the only Tamil-speaking priest in our local community but he was able to get some of the concelebrants to dip their tongue into Tamil during the division of parts that take place in the Eucharistic Prayer. The introduction to the Mass was prepared by Br. Shaba Dennis, SCJ (3rd year) who also speaks Tamil while the homily was shared by the postulants of the Sisters of Aloysius Gonzaga. They prepared (in English) a brief history of the Pongal feast while Fr. Michael added how it has been adapted by Christians. A good example is that that Sun God is seen as Jesus the Light of the world and just as the sun is necessary for human existence so Christ is to the salvation of the human family.

Upon the conclusion of Mass it was time to eat our Pongal and begin our cultural program. It was a departure from our usual performances as we not only had dances and skits by our Christu Dehon Nivas brothers but also by the Franciscan Sisters of Aloysius Gonzaga postulants.

 

Celebrating 70 years of Mission, Love, and Reparation

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Frater Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas, a seminarian from the US Province doing his ministry year in Brazil, writes:

As my pastoral experience in Brazil continues, I have the privilege now of being at the Instituto Meninos de São Judas Tadeu (The Institute Saint Jude Thaddeus) in São Paulo, which is one of many Priests of the Sacred Heart ministries in this province. The institute was founded in November 16, 1946 by Father João Büscher, SCJ, who was pastor of the parish of Saint Judas Thaddeus. It was administrated by the Little Missionary Sisters of Immaculate Mary untill1949. It was in 1950 that Father Gregorio Westrupp, SCJ, took over administration of the orphanage, which in 1954 took the name it is known by today, Instituto Meninos de São Judas Tadeu. After his death in 1983 and as I have myself experienced, Father Gregorio has become an example of dedication, hard work, and reparation. Many people display a beautiful devotion to him and pray to him for his intercession for many different needs. As I have learned more about Father Gregorio, I have found that he truly lived our Dehonian charism of reparation by living among those who are at risk and vulnerable.

Frater Juancho

Frater Juancho

Since its creation, the institute has experienced many changes and many challenges. It began as an orphanage but in 2006 the institute had to change its work as a response to the law in Brazil and also as response to new needs of the people.  However, something that never has changed is its ideal of bringing to all people a restorative love by embracing, protecting, and educating babies, children, teenagers, and young adults.

During all those years of service, the institute has helped millions of children who found a safe place to grow. The institute did that not only by providing food and shelter but education and caring and love.

Thus, I had the privilege to be present for the celebration of 70 years of service of an institution that was inspired by God in the heart of a man who, just as Father Dehon, was not indifferent to the needs and situations of his times and decided to be an instrument of reparation for the little ones.

In the words of one of the teachers during the ceremony: “Love and reparation were and are the principal values of the institute. And by the help of many priests and religious of the congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart it has been possible to keep this institution and its mission. There are many hands that come together in the construction of this mission, those are hands that have experienced in their lives the love of God and with concrete actions desire to return that love.”

But it would not be possible to continue this amazing mission if we as Dehonians did not have the support and dedication of our 320 workers and many other volunteers who give their time, dedication, and helping hand to the work of this mission. I am amazed and happy to see how each person who is part of this mission fully lives out the Dehonian charism of love and reparation.

Celebrate!

Celebrate!

And of course and just like any other of our Dehonian missions and ministries, it is because of the support and giving hearts of our benefactors who believe in us and our work that we are able to continue with them.

This mission exists because we as Dehonians, as well as everyone who works with us, believe in a great love that can heal and repair broken hearts. This is how each one of the kids and young adults that we help are experiencing the greater love of God through us. They are the fruits of those seeds of hope and love that the institute plants and helps to grow. Today the Institute serves 2,165 babies, children, and young adults and in over the 70 years of service it has helped millions of children.

It is always nice to talk with people who come to the institute for mass, bring a donation, or ask for a blessing. Many of them speak very well of the mission of the Institute and they speak nicely about Father Gregorio and his legacy. I have to say that everyone really puts their hearts into this mission and always are super-welcoming. It has been a real pleasure to share my time here with them.

Today I feel blessed to be part of this mission, sharing, and learning every day about the acts of love and reparation given through the institute. This experience really gives me joy to see in the faces of all those children the joy of our mission, the legacy of Father Gregorio, and the love of God.  Happy anniversary to the Institute Saint Jude Thaddeus and congratulations not just to all the SCJs here but to our workers, volunteers, and benefactors who, with an open heart, work in our mission of love and reparation.

 

 

 

 

Seminarian experiences Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil

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The concert in Aparecida

Frater Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas, a seminarian with the US Province, is currently doing his ministerial year in Brazil. Recently he wrote about the devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida, Queen and Patron of Brazil. Juancho writes:

Growing up in Colombia I learned from my parents about the devotion to Maria Auxiliadora ( Mary our Helper), praying the rosary and attending every Tuesday the Mass celebrated specially for the intercession of the Virgin Mary. So I can say that in my life the Devotion to the Virgin Mary is very strong and important in my vocation.

After I moved to the United States I came to develop another important devotion to the Virgin Mary and this time in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As I had the opportunity to appreciate this devotion that is mostly strong among Mexican people, that devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe grew stronger in my heart. When I witnessed the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in our parish in Houston and at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plains, Il., I had to opportunity to see how this devotion is manifested in many different expressions of reverence.

On October 12 people in Brazil celebrated the feast of “Nossa Senhora Aparecida” (Our Lady of Aparecida). During the entire month of October many people make their way to visit the Basilica of Nossa Senhora Aparecida in the city of Aparecida, many of them walking miles to go there. People from all over Brazil come to visit the shrine, or as many are referred to: “na casa de mae” (the house of our mother). I was amazed by the number of people whom I saw walking the highways in direction to Aparecida.

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Our Lady of Aparecida

What is different about this devotion compared to others to the Virgin Mary is that it did not begin with an apparition of the Blessed Mother as with Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego or Our Lady of Fatima who appeared to the three little shepherds.

The image of Our Lady of Conception that would be later best known as “Nossa Senhora Aparecida” was found by three fishermen in the waters of the river Paraíba. After trowing their nets in the water without any success,  feeling hopeless they prayed to the Virgin Mary and threw their nets one more time. Instead of catching a fish they caught a statue of Our Lady of Conception without her head. Amazed at their finding they tossed their nets one more time. They caught something once again but instead of fish it was the head of the statue that they pulled up in the previous casting. They saw it as a miracle and prayed before throwing their nets one more time.  This time they caught so many fish that their nets were about to break and they were afraid that their boats were going to sink because of the weight of the fish.

Frater Juancho

Frater Juancho in Aparecida

As they returned to their town they told the story of what had happened. This is how the devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida started to become one of the most important devotions in Brazil and today she is recognized as the Queen and Patron of Brazil.

I have witnessed this amazing devotion of the Catholic community in Brazil. I had the opportunity to be at the Basilica for the closing ceremony with thousands of people who came to pray and celebrate the Feast Day of Mae (mother). For me it was just an amazing experience because this year marks 300 years since the encounter of Our Lady of Aparecida.

And if that wasn’t enough, I had the opportunity while here to assist at the concert of Andre Bocelli, one of my favortites singers!

It has been good to experience this new devotion and learn more about Brazilian spirituality. Every time that I visit the Basilica I also experience a deep emotion and joy to visit the house of Mae.

House blessing in India

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes about doing a house blessing for the mother of one of the SCJ students in India. Benefactors from the US Province funded the construction. 

I recently took part in a house blessing for the widowed mother of Br. Thambi Joseph, a third-year SCJ theologian. Funding for the house was through the US Province; Pam Milczarski of the Province Development Office was instrumental in connecting donors to the project. Br. Thambi, along with nine fellow students and other SCJs, traveled three hours to be present at the blessing.

Br. Thambi's mother, Fr. Suresh, Fr. Michael Augustine and Fr. Tom cutting the ribbon for the new house.

Br. Thambi’s mother, Fr. Suresh, Fr. Michael Augustine and Fr. Tom cutting the ribbon for the new house.

The celebration was done in a mix of English and Telugu. Br. Thambi is fluent in English, but his mother is not. Br. Harish (Hari) Kumar Barigala (4th year) translated my brief remarks as well as read the Telugu version of the blessing ritual. After the ribbon cutting, and sprinkling each of the rooms with holy water, we celebrated Mass. Our SCJ students provided the music and various ministerial parts. Fr. Michael Augustine was the celebrant and Fr. Suresh Gottom, assistant priest at Sacred Heart Parish, Vempadu, preached. The Mass was in Telugu.

As is the custom just before the final blessing, Br. Thambi thanked everyone involved in making the day a memorable one. He also, through me, offered his thanks to the US Province, Pam, and those benefactors who contributed the funds needed to construct his mother’s new home. The family moves from what I’d call a hut with palm leaf roof into a house that can withstand monsoon rains and provide a safer and more secure environment for her and Br. Thambi’s two younger brothers. It is a small house with two bedrooms, a small kitchen and a living/dinging area. While I don’t have the exact figures with me, a house like this typically costs around $5,000.

As is tradition, a meal followed the event. We ate in what is the living/dining area the new house. The meal begins with washing of your right hand, the one used for eating, as well as some water to rinse off your paper plate. Glasses of water are filled and then the food comes. Today we had fried rice and white rice along with beef, chicken and fish dishes topped off with curd and bananas.