By George!

Celebrating 175 years!

As indicated previously, Fr. Tom Cassidy is in India until early March, assisting with the formation program. The following was writing from Kumbalanghy.

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 10.00.37 AMI can summarize the day in two words: “By George!” I arrived last evening around 10:00 p.m. and was informed by Fr. Thomas Vinod (the SCJ district superior) that the parish our minor seminary is located in would be finishing a year-long celebration in honor of the 175th anniversary of their foundation. Not too many parishes in this area bear the name St. George. I wonder given the date of their foundation if any British influence went into this given the fact that St. George is the patron saint of England and the British were fully entrenched in India during this time period. By the way, this is a very Catholic area, which makes it an exception to the rule in this vast country.

Before speaking about the day’s activities, a few words about this SCJ house. It is the smallest minor seminary we have in India. At present their are 18 students who are nearing the end of their school year (March). There are four SCJs on the staff: two priests, one deacon and one SCJ student who is doing his regency year. Each SCJ student has a year out to work in one of our ministries either formation or, as in Mumbai in one of our parishes. Having spent two years myself between college and theology teaching at Donaldson I can appreciate the value of a regency experience.

Our day at St. George, about one mile from the seminary, began with Mass. The sanctuary was festooned with flowers and reminded me of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations at our parish in Houston. Even though Friday is a work day in India the church was packed and spilled out the doors into the courtyard. I have no idea how many the church can hold as the church had no pews save for a very small section in one of the alcoves. Here the people stand, kneel and sit on the floor. Men and women are separated from one another as well.

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 10.00.28 AMThe Mass began at 10:00 a.m. and went on for about two hours. It was celebrated in the local language of Malayalam so I was out of the loop when it came to the homily or other extemporaneous parts. The retired pastor was the main celebrant and his introduction went on longer than the homily given by another priest. The singing was well done, and even though I did not understand the words the melodies were pleasing to hear. I’m guessing some were modern tunes while others more traditional given their intonation.

Both before and after Mass people gathered in front of the Church where the statue of St. George, as well as those of the Blessed Virgin and Jesus were on display for their veneration. Given this is St. George’s feast his was in the middle and festooned with an abundance of flower garlands as I think you can make out here.

Before we all returned to our house for a rest we were invited to stay for lunch. We are very near the ocean and so seafood is the specialty of the area. I was served a fish with a tomato base. The only down side for me was my need to debone the fish myself, but I seemed to manage it. After the fish course we were served rice with three or four side dishes. We ended with ice cream. The drink of choice was water as alcohol is not a part of the culture.

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 10.00.15 AMI think I managed about an hour’s rest before it was time to head back to the parish for the procession. The estimates of how many marched along was a low of 2,000 to a high of 3,000. Since I only have an alb with me I chose not to be with the priests who marched behind the Statue of St. George and the Blessed Sacrament in their habits and cassocks. Instead I joined a couple of our students on the march. I think all we had to cover was a mile or perhaps two since it was a circular route but it took 2 hours to complete. I think I was the only non-Indian to participate.

At the head of the procession was a group of drummers followed by this section of various parish organizations (Legion of Mary for example) carrying their flags denoting who they were. Following the flags and umbrellas the people walked along in two lines — young and old, men and women, boys and girls and even a dog or two came along. Just before the men carrying the flag of St. George and the three statues of Mary, Jesus and St. George another group of drummers and musicians made way for the important part of the procession. I thought to myself we could never get away with this in the States but it made absolute sense in this context. I also thought Italians could fully participate in a procession like this. If you have ever been to the Sunday Mass at Festa Italiana and took part in the procession after Mass you’ll understand what was going on here in Kumbalanghy.


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