Due to a few internet glitches, we didn’t receive this final journal entry from Fr. Stephen Huffstetter’s visit to India until today. He is now in South America, continuing the general visitations with Fr. Heiner Wilmer.
As a football fan, I always look forward to Super Bowl Sunday. In India, the game actually started at 5 O’clock Monday morning. After mass and breakfast, I picked up the action in the 3rd Quarter. A short while later, the 20 aspirants filled the TV room as well. Their regular schedule includes a half hour of TV watching each morning to improve their English. They usually watch the news but were happy to let me stay with the game. None of them had the slightest idea about the action they were seeing on the screen. None knew where Denver was, though one student knew about Carolina because Deacon Roy’s sister lives there. During the time outs and commercials (which are long and frequent during the Super Bowl) I tried to explain the rules. I don’t think one quarter was enough to get a good grasp, but they liked the tackling and battles for control of the line. They stayed long enough to see a field goal, then went off to begin their other studies.
When we approached the study hall later, I was surprised at how quiet it was. When I stepped in I was even more surprised that no one was supervising or watching. On their own, each was dedicated to learning new words and vocabulary in order to advance in their studies.
Later they exhibited the same concentration in prayer. Before lunch they sat on the sidewalk in front of Mary’s Grotto and recited the rosary.
One aspect of their formation program which impressed me was the involvement of families. Some of the seminarians are beginning after completing 10th standard (grade) so may be as young as 16. Twice a year the families sit with the young men and their formation directors for feedback and evaluation. With this awareness of how their sons are doing, the families can be part of their discernment about a call to religious life. Those who choose not to continue in seminary are at least better educated, and closer to discovering the kind of vocation to which God is calling them.
I also appreciate the way the Indian district integrates India culture into the style of prayer and rhythm of life. We Dehonians value Sint Unum, that all might be one. Yet that begins with respect for the unique gifts of each culture we find ourselves living and working among.
Fr. Heiner and I met with Indian district council to listen to more of their opinions and feedback, then shared our observations about the needs and challenges we heard spoken during our meetings with the individuals in the district. A constant theme was the pride the members take in their growth and vocations. They have youth and energy. A huge challenge is the lack of experienced leadership, and the need for more mentoring and role modeling. It will take time and patience as they face those growing pains. We plan to write a letter to everyone in the district, with a focus on the key areas we repeatedly heard from the members – Administration, Formation, Economy and Mission.
Our trip back to Chennai was aboard a night train. Our compartment had two bunks on each side, with a cloth curtain to separate us from the hall. While not luxurious, the past days’ activities left me tired enough to sleep for about six hours on the trip.
Our last day in India included a little time for sight-seeing. St. Thomas Mount is the site of the apostle’s martyrdom, on a hill overlooking the whole city. In a unique cooperative arrangement three priests from the diocese and two from religious orders are available to serve the needs of the pilgrims who visit. In the church my imagination was captured by an image of Mary I had not seen before. Our Lady of Expectation depicts a very pregnant Blessed Mother, with a full and round belly just days before the labor of birth. I prayed for the expectant moms that I know, and all women ready to share the sacred gift of life.
Before traveling I wanted to get a haircut. My father was a part time barber, and I always feel so relaxed when I settle into a barber chair Fr. Balraj and Fr. Alex walked Fr. Heiner and me down the block to a shop with three chairs, run by a father and his 10 year old son. They explained how we wanted our hair cut, and the barber had us both sit down. The barber started to give Heiner a trim, and the 10 year old proceeded to cut my hair! I was relaxed with the shears, but admit being a little nervous when he took out the razor! My hairline, or lack of it, makes it easier to cut but I think the boy has a good career in the barber business if that’s the path he chooses to follow.