A ministry of presence

Our theology house in Eluru, India: "Christu Dehon Nivas"

Our theology house in Eluru, India: “Christu Dehon Nivas”

As noted previously, Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, spent much of the last two months with our theology community in Eluru, India. Before leaving last week he had a final Mass with the students. 

“The Mass was my last opportunity to address the students in a formal setting,” he said. “Basically I told them that when I get back home I’m sure one of the questions I’ll be asked is: ‘What did you do?’ My answer will be: ‘All I did was eat and pray with the theologians and postulants.’

“I call it a ministry of presence.

“Then I told the students that if I had any advice to offer it would be this: The people of God are not stupid and all the beautiful words you offer them will count for nothing if you don’t live them. 

“’Think everyday of St. Francis’ admonition to ‘preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.’”

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One of Fr. Tom’s last blog posts from India was about going to a First Mass of Fr. Gopu, SCJ, and Fr. Gangarapu Marianand, SCJ. In it he writes:

At supper last evening Fr. Gopu informed me that we would leave for Sacred Heart Parish at 5:30 a.m. rather than with Fr. Jojoppa, SCJ, and the three theologians who would depart at 4:45 a.m. Getting up at 5:00 a.m. is so much better sounding then 4:15 a.m.!,” wrote Fr. Tom.

It was to be a First Mass for both Fr. Gopu and Fr. Gangarapu Marianand. Fr. Gopu’s first assignment will be to assist Fr. Jojoppa at his parish in addition to his duties as the new treasurer of Christu Dehon Nivas.

Fr. Marianand’s will be at our Sacred Heart parish/shrine in Nambur. Last year he did his deacon ministry with Fr. Jojoppa while Fr. Gopu worked with Fr. Dharma, SCJ, at the parish in Nambur.

Since Fr. Marianand previously served in the Eluru parish he was the main celebrant at this morning’s liturgy, along with Frs. Gopu, Jojoppa and me as concelebrants.

It was a long Mass! We started at 6:00 a.m. and it was about two hours before the end was in sight. Of course I did not understand a word of it as the entire Mass was done in Telugu. At times like this during a long homily one’s mind begins to wander and mine began thinking of all the places around the world that I have had the opportunity to celebrate Mass.

Some of the places I recalled included Uganda Martyrs parish in apartheid South Africa, pre-Amazon forest parishes in northern Brazil, and my little favorite of Bualan on the Island of Mindanao (Philippines).  I have had many opportunities in the course of my service as general councilor and later as provincial superior. In each case, while the language was foreign to me the heart of the liturgy was not. And while there are always some local customs particular to a country and/or culture the liturgical drama always unfolds telling the same story over and over in only God knows how many languages and dialects.

A couple of examples of Indian practices we would not find back in the States:

(1) There is always a long introduction to the liturgy, almost a mini-homily at the start of Mass.

(2) Frequently the Prayer of the Faithful is not said, especially at weekday Masses.

(3) Music is essential to the celebration and all songs are sung from start to finish, or at least I presume they get through all the verses given the length of each song.

(4) Intinction is customary for the priest as well as the people (when the cup is offered).

(5) There is a very small spoon (similar to what some Eastern Rites use) to mix the water with the wine at the offertory.

(6) The Sign of Peace is a bow with hands folded. The priest will first offer this gesture to the people who return it to him and then to any priest on his immediate right and left.

This morning at the offertory procession everyone came to offer either money, rice or another food item such as eggs. The food items are for the use of the parish priest.


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