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!

Founder’s Day in India

SCJs in India gather for Founder’s Day

In some parts of the world, Founder’s Day is noted as the commemoration of the death of Fr. Leo John Dehon on August 12, 1925 (many entities also celebrate Fr. Dehon’s birth on March 14, 1843, as “Founder’s Day”). Fr. Tom Cassidy writes about the Indian District’s Founder’s Day gatherings in a recent journal entry:

With three formation houses and three parishes it brings quite a crowd together. It was CDN’s turn to host the gathering this year but with the large number of minor seminarians (41) from  Dehon Prema Nilayam the decision was made to hold it at DPN. We did bring from CDN our cooks John and Rekha to help with feeding the large crowd.

Last year some of our CDN brothers had to take public transportation since we only have our truck and van to cart people around in. Due to a late train bound for Eluru the brothers did not get back to CDN until around 4:00 am last year. I’m not sure if that was the motivating force but Fr. Micahel Augustine, scj, our rector, borrowed a van from our former Telugu teacher and a car from our own Br. Meghanandha Chakravarthi Bandanadham’s, scj (3rd year) family and with that we were able to accommodate our entire community.

Our Saturday began with Eucharistic Adoration and the presentation of our Dehonian Crosses to the 15 new students from Dehon Prema Nilayam (DPN) followed by the blessing of new juppas (shirts) for all in attendance. These were made to measure by the ladies of Sacred Heart parish  sewing center in Vempadu. I was asked to bless the crosses and distribute them as well as bless the juppas. I used the opportunity to remind the new students that while they are at the beginning stage of their formation process it would go by quickly, just ask our fourth-year theologians! I also reminded all present that we are responsible for living and promoting the charism of our founder. After Adoration, the juppas were distributed to everyone so that we could take a group photo.

While I did not take a head count I think we had over a 100 in attendance.

In addition to Adoration and Mass there were lots of sports activities: basketball, volleyball, cricket and soccer. At night a number of individual indoor games were played such as table tennis and chess.

The next day started with a quiz between the three communities of Dehon Prema Nilayam (DPN), Sacred Heart Ashram (SHA or Novitiate) and Christu Dehon Nivas (CDN) on the life of Fr. Dehon. It was won by the novitiate brothers (SHA).

 

“Reconciliation on steroids!”

Fr. Mark with youth at Life Teen

Fr. Mark Mastin, SCJ, who serves as a civilian chaplain at Fort Gordon in Georgia, shares the following reflection about his experience with a Life Teen weekend:

“Reconciliation on steroids” is how I would describe the 10 hours I spent listening to confessions for teenagers, young college students and adults at the Steubenville Life Teen Weekend Conference. The gathering had close to 3,000 participants.

Throughout all those hours I did not feel tired but instead felt energized as I fulfilled what our founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon, asked of us: to be Prophets of Love and Servants of Reconciliation (Rule of Life No. 7).  When he said this, Fr. Dehon must have had modern-day youth conferences in mind. Well, maybe not quite a vision of a 21st century music-filled, loud and exuberant praise-and-worship youth conference where one is lucky to get maybe five hours of sleep a day.  However, our founder knew that we are all in need of forgiveness, spiritual repair, and most of all, a sense of love and belonging.

Preparing for Mass

Fr Dehon was very astute in his observations about a world in need of help and change, a Sacred Heart transplant if you will.  Fr. Dehon must have realized that if we help our young people feel wanted and cared for, then perhaps the future of the Church and World will be in good hands; it would be a world full of hopeful and constant reconciliation, especially in our families where love begins and ends.  I believe that Fr. Dehon tapped into this understanding very well by establishing his own successful youth programs. Having served in youth ministry for most of my life and having performed thousands of hours of counseling throughout my religious and military life, I see that our young people want to be listened to and feel that they have a place in which they fit. They need to know that they matter and have value and purpose in life.

Fr. Dehon wanted members of his religious community to be available to help bring God’s message of love, reconciliation, and reparation to all people as a remedy for “the lack of love in the Church and in the world.”  In other words, he wanted his men to be the instruments of God’s healing for all forms of spiritual ills caused not just by personal sin but the byproducts of public sin, such as social injustices found in poor living and working conditions and inappropriate  wages. These impact a person not just spiritually but emotionally, physically, and psychologically.

As Priests of the Sacred Heart, we continue this mission of Fr. Dehon to be prophets of love and servants of reconciliation for people and the world in Christ through our whole lives, our prayers, our works, and in our sufferings and joys (cf. NQ XXV, 5).

Back in India!

 

The community welcomes Fr. Tom back to India

Last week Fr. Tom Cassidy returned to his second home: the District of India. There, he spends several months of each year assisting with the formation communities. While in India he maintains a daily journal. Periodically we will share excerpts from it on our province blog. The following is a snippet from one of Fr. Tom’s first journal entries:

Our usual breakfast routine was broken up this morning with a breakfast that would be well known to Americans: Rice Krispies and Muslix along with bananas and juice. I’ve never been able to find Rice Krispies in India though most other cereals are available so I brought with me a family size box for the students to try.

Today is a free day for the students and it started with late rising and breakfast at 8:00 am. I had to rise earlier as I had the 7:00 am Mass for the Holy Family Brothers, picking up my routine from earlier this year of celebrating Mass for the brothers on weekends.

One reason for making today a free day was all the activity of the past week in getting ready for and then hosting the district’s ongoing formation program. That ended at noon yesterday and then last night we all went to Sacred Heart parish Vempadu for the first Friday evening service that our students conducted. The service is done in a manner similar to a revival in the Pentecostal style — a lot of  “Praise the Lord Hallelujahs” thrown in from time to time.

First Friday

There is, of course, a Catholic twist to it all. The service began at 7:30 pm with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament followed by a praise and worship service. I call it the warm up act. Last evening it was led by Br. Jesu Prasad Siddela, SCJ (thirdrd year). This portion of the service ran about 45 minutes and is designed to prepare the congregation for the sermon. Last evening it was delivered by Br. Chitti Babu Nandipamu, SCJ (second year) who spoke for 45 minutes. While this was going on Fr. Michael Augustine, SCJ, heard confessions underneath the bell tower. The service ended with benediction but very different from what Americans experience. In this service the priest goes around to each person and blesses him or her with the monstrance. When the Blessed Sacrament is returned to the tabernacle and the priest leaves the alter there is no closing hymn. The people simply get up and leave the church. We finished around 9:15 pm and went from the church to the parish house for supper before heading home.

I don’t know all that well the history of the development of the Catholic Church in Andhra Pradesh but it certainly is the most Pentecostal compared to Goa or Kerala, two other areas of the country that I have spent time in. Kerala and Goa have a much bigger concentration of Catholics and that may have something to do with it. I have been told by our Andhra Pradesh brothers that the people have been heavily influenced by Protestantism where preaching is the central part of worship. Certainly in Goa and Kerala a homily of 15 minutes is the norm but here in Andhra it is generally 30 minutes or more.

Celebrating Festa Junina!

Frater Juancho with novices in Barretos

Frater Juancho Castañeda Rojas shares the following from Brazil:

During my time in Brazil doing my pastoral year I have had an incredible experience in many diverse ministries such as parish work, youth ministry, mission in rural areas, and learning about the Dehonian spirituality by sharing time with students in different stages of formation. In addition, I have participated in the Rosary for men and with people at the Institute Saint Jude Thaddeus who have many different needs. But I have also had the opportunity to learn about the amazing and diverse Brazilian culture and gastronomy.

Learning a language is not just about communication because it also helps one understand the culture and traditions of the people who speak it. And this is what has happened to me as I have been submerged in a rich and beautiful mix of religious and popular traditions that are all very important for the Brazilian people.

L-R: Fra. Otavio, Fra. Luis, Fra. Bruno and Fra. Juancho

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in Festa Junina (June Fest) which featured a far-ranging display of music, dance, food, costumes, friendship, bonfires and fraternization. For many people this is a month each year that they look forward to with great expectations. I had thought the biggest event in Brazil each year was the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. But I was amazed to learn how much everyone looks forward to celebrating June Fest.

There is no clear explanation about the origin of this feast. One theory is that it originated as a way to celebrate the three Catholic religious feasts that occur in the month of June honoring Saint John the Baptist, Saint Peter, and Saint Anthony. However, historians say that this feast was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese during the colonial period.  What is clear is the importance of this festive occasion for people here in Brazil.

As I took part in celebration of this feast in the Institute Saint Jude Thaddeus in Sao Paulo, I was mesmerized by the participation of the people in this event and of course I loved the food. But I also had the opportunity to share this celebration with the novices from our congregation and other religious communities in the city of Barretos. I was also impressed with how they lived their culture with joy and fraternity. Wearing some costumes and typical clothes for this festival they celebrated their culture in their own way. This was a beautiful experience because it was a good reminder about how authentic our response to God’s call can be by keeping alive our traditions and our hearts full of joy.

I know that wherever I go I will be exposed to new cultures and traditions which I embrace with love. But I also know that wherever God leads me, I will bring with me my own essence and will keep my own traditions and culture as a Colombian. Because I am sure that those are gifts that I can share with everyone. It is true that the call to religious life has some sacrifices and we have to renounce many things. But we do not give up the essence of our personalities because that is what makes us who we are. And it was because of our uniqueness that God called us to follow him.  As I continue learning about the Dehonian ministry and mission in Brazil, I am also learning about its amazing culture and its traditions which are full of color and joy.