Fr. Tom Cassidy returned to India last week; each year he spends several months in the district assisting with the formation program. Periodically we will share excerpts from his daily journal on the province blog. It seems fitting that this time we begin with Fr. Tom’s reflection on why he goes to India. He writes:
“I am often asked when I’m back in Franklin: “Why do you go to India?” Now there is no simple answer to that question but a partial answer hit me this weekend when visiting the shrine of Br. Joseph Thambi. It’s between here and Vijayawada, about 40 kilometers (24 miles) by car or foot. I say foot because three of our brothers and a friend and fellow student at Vijnananilayam Institute of Philosophy and Religion walked from here to there. They left on Sunday evening at 10:30 pm and arrived around 6:00 am Monday morning. This has been an annual trip for Br. Jesu Prasada Sidella (3rd year) as well as Deacon Mary Babu Kota and Br. Sakharov Adam Nanduri (3rd year). Servant of God Thambi Joseph is revered as a holy man who died 73 years ago. He was the first of the Capuchin priests in the area and helped to strengthen the faith in this part of Andhra Pradesh.
The three-day festival for Joseph Thambi is part state or county fair and part religious festival. Rides, trinkets, games and food are available to those who come perhaps less for the religious experience and more for the entertainment. On the religious side, Mass is celebrated just about every hour with the highlight being the Bishop’s Mass on the closing day. The highlight for the true pilgrims is a chance to pray at Thambi’s tomb and receive a blessing from one of the Capuchin priests on duty. It’s a taxing day for them. One of our SCJs spends most of his day giving blessings as well. I claim he comes home with blessing elbow, an affliction akin to tennis elbow.
I find that the chaos has an appeal all its own. In the midst of all that is going on each person cuts out a turf or space or activity that appeals to him or her at any given moment. The hawker tolerates the pilgrim on his/her knees, the pilgrim shuts out as best he/she can the chaos all around and somehow gains a bit of interior silence and peace. Saints rub shoulders with sinners! Sellers offer their products to anyone — saint, sinner, pilgrim, hawker, etc. — just as long as the rupees add up by the end of the day.
The religious side of the experience is not devoid of its contribution to the chaos and noise. Indians love loud music, and all through the grounds –– sometimes faint and sometimes glaring –– you hear the music, prayers and preaching of the Mass being said in the large outdoor space set up to handle the throngs of pilgrims, some who come to stay for all three days of the festival. For someone from the Milwaukee area the closest experience would be a crowded hot summer day at Summerfest [summer music festival in Milwaukee]
Maybe what I’m really trying to say is that in a land with more than a billion people, each person must find his/her way to maintain the balance life requires of us. Watching people achieve that is both intriguing and instructive and is part of the reason India fascinates me.