Category Archives: Fr. Tom Cassidy

The gift of clean water

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India:

Today we inaugurated the new water treatment facility at Sacred Heart parish in Nambur. It was a gift to the community through the generosity of our North Italian Province.

Fr. McQueen opens the tap

Here in India, fresh water cannot be taken for granted, and with 1.2 billion people and growing, it is and will probably become a bigger issue in the years ahead. Take for example our minor seminary in Gorantla, about a half hour drive from the novitiate and Sacred Heart parish in Nambur. When we opened our seminary it was, well frankly, out in the middle of nowhere, but now all around it apartment buildings are going up and the only source of water is underground. Recently, the seminary had to dig a new well as the old one was fast becoming dry as the water table recedes. I do not know how much, if any planning, goes into the booming construction, but I do hope someone with some clout is on top of just how much population density the water table will support.

For the poor of India and the poor of the world, access to clean and safe drinking water is questionable at best. Nambur is a simple Indian village, typical of many in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The installation of this water plant means a lot to those living near the parish church that it is designed to serve. It is a great service that the parish is now able to provide fresh drinking water to its neighbors: Catholic, Hindu and Muslim. In turn, may it help to improve community relationships; time will tell on that score.

Special thanks goes to the provincial superior of the North Italian Province, Fr. Oliviero Cattani, SCJ, and his council for approving this project, and in particular, the help of Fr. Beppe Pierantoni, SCJ, who proposed it to the council and helped coordinate it from an idea to the reality we celebrated today.

Renewal and remembrance on Palm Sunday in India

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India:

Today is Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday, in which the Church, through its liturgy, reenacts the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and marks the solemn beginning of Holy Week. This year it also was the day chosen for those brothers in temporary vows to make their renewals.

With the renewals taking place at Mass this morning it also marked the end of the vow retreat conducted by Fr. Bala, SJ. I learned the retreat centered on 5 Cs: Compassion, Collaboration, Conversion, Commitment, and Courage. From all that I have heard and seen the brothers found the retreat to be worthwhile and energizing of their own commitment with today’s renewal of vows.

I actually got to celebrate the Palm Sunday liturgy twice, as this morning I had it for the Holy Family Brothers at 7:00 am plus the 10:45 am liturgy and vow renewal out the formation house for our brothers. Fr. McQueen Winston Savio Mascarenhas, SCJ, our district superior, was the main celebrant and received the vow renewal of our 22 brothers in house plus the 5 regents. Fr. Bala preached the homily as a wrap up to his retreat.

Fr. Martin

Fr. McQueen took time to say a few words before Mass, and then just before the vow renewal, expressed his sentiments on the news of the death of Fr. Martin van Ooij, SCJ, who was truly the Founding Father of our SCJ presence here in India. A missionary for many years Fr. Martin was tasked by the general administration in 1994 to begin establishing our presence in
India, first in Kerala. It was not an easy task.

Fr. Martin was born on December 14, 1935, in Deurne Holland. After ordination in 1963, he became a missionary in Indonesia, spending practically all of his time in the diocese of Lampung until asked in 1994 by Bishop Virginio Bressanelli, SCJ, at that time our superior general, to organize our efforts in India. Fr. Martin died on March 24 in Jakarta.

“We believe unity to be possible”

The community at Christu Dehon Nivas with visiting family members

Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, writes from India:

On February 12 the Dehonian formation community at Christu Dehon Nivas held its first annual “Family Day,” welcoming parents and other family members to a Sunday of activities.

The SCJs (Dehonians) came to India in 1994 with the express intention of building an Indian community based not on state, language or caste. For many reasons, this is not an easy task; just the sheer size of the country is an obstacle all its own.

The vast majority of our professed members or those in formation come from Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, with Tamil Nadu a distant third. As to where Dehonians work, we have either formation houses or parishes in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Maharashtra (Mumbai) and hope to soon open a new ministry in Goa. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka and, I believe, Maharashtra, are considered part of southern India, while Odisha, Assam and Jharkhand are in the north.

A larger Christian population is found in the south; Hindu fundamentalism is stronger in the north.

It is only in recent years that we’ve begun to draw candidates from the north. For example, at present in our CDN community we have two brothers from Odisha with three or four more joining the community following their first profession of vows on May 1, 2018. It will be couple of years more before we will see Assam brothers in our CDN community.

With the different languages, cultures and castes of each state you have a true melting pot in our Dehonian Indian District, but one that needs constant tending so as to build a sense of common identity.

This is well stated in our new congregational Mission Statement which concludes with the line: “We live in a community, are inspired by daily Eucharistic adoration and in a fragmented world we believe unity to be possible.”

Under any circumstances that is not an easy task given the diversity and character of human nature, but it is possible if attention, nurturing and care is given to create a common vision. If Indian SCJs (Dehonians) are able to do that then we’ll be living our of motto “Sint Unum” (That they may be one) instead of just saying the words.

Are we there yet? Not by a long shot. But we’ve only been traveling the road for a few short years. So long as the goal remains clear in our hearts and minds, the “we believe unity to be possible” has a real chance to become our reality.

Devasting effects of Cyclone Ockhi continue to be felt in India

Families waiting for news of their loved ones (photo: Hindustan Times)

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India about Cyclone Ockhi, a devastating storm that significantly impacted the families of several of our Dehonians in India:

During the first week of February, Fr. Michael Augustine, our rector, and some of our students from Kerala, will travel to the area where so many families lost husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and uncles. I suspect that very few Americans have any idea of what I am relating as our American news does not often cover news from this part of the world.

In December, Cyclone Ockhi struck Kerala and due to a lack of sufficient warning it caught many local fishermen out at sea. As I write, at least 613 fishermen are still missing. The actual figure is not clear as church officials list it at 650. In an article first published on December 2, 2017, shortly after the disaster began to unfold, fishermen expressed their anger at the lack of warning of the pending storm. They were also angry that despite weather reports predicting a cyclone, no effort was made to convey this information to the fisherfolk. “We certainly would not have ventured out on Thursday had we been given an advance notice, which normally is done,” said a fisherman who was rescued and was under medical observation at the general hospital here.

A list of the missing

A number of our Indian SCJs come from this area and have family members who are still listed as missing. A sheet with nine names hangs from our altar; a remembrance of family who have not been found, including relatives of Br. Thomas Raju (1st year), and Brs. Franklin Victor and Shabu Dennis (both are now in their regency year).

Following the storm and the disaster, our community decided to send some of our SCJs originally from Kerala, including those who have family members listed as missing, to offer our moral support and solidarity to the families. Not knowing what happened to a missing family member is perhaps the cruelest fate.

While this is all sad news there are of course stories of fishermen being rescued, and this included Br. Thomas’ brother, as well the family members of other SCJs. I don’t think that I need say much more except that we keep all of these families in our prayers.

Following his own text, Fr. Tom shared that of Arul Dasan, a friend of Fr. Antony Alex, SCJ. A fisherman, Arul experienced the devastation of the storm firsthand. His report will be in an upcoming issue of the Mustard Seed, a publication of the Indian District. Excerpts from it:

One of many damaged boats

“I am a fisherman by birth, I have been fishing for 25 years. I am expert at reading the signs of nature, its sky, sun, moon and stars. With these supports I am able to do my fishing. But today we depend more on modern technologies; GPS, eco-sound and wireless systems for fishing.  Today we build our boats bigger, a few fishermen go together and stay at sea according to the capacity for the catch.

“On November 26, the day following the Solemnity of Christ the King, we ten fishermen went by one of our large fishing boats to fish close to our harbor, Thengapattanam, in collaboration with two other boats.  Since we caught nothing we went out further.  Then on November 29, at about 2:00 pm, there was heavy wind and rain. The clouds became darker; the wind became stronger and then turned into a cyclone.

“What was surprising and shocking to me were the gigantic waves that appeared, which I have never experienced in my 25 years of fishing. How could such waves appear in the deep water? A heavy wave hit my boat and destroyed the engine. We began to lose hope of making it back home.  We could not see anything and we cried for help, ‘Lord come to our rescue.’

“We were praying together and longing for the Lord to come. Finally, the Lord listened to our prayers. Fellow fishermen came and gave us a helping hand and they tied our boat and pulled it to shore.

“I have to appreciate and be grateful to these, my friends. While we were heading towards the land we saw so many boats and plywood on the water floating and sinking and the fishermen just hanging and shouting for help.  We took one man from the water to our boat and saved his life; he had been swimming for two days. There were many other painful visions. Finally, on the fourth day we reached land at Chellanam beach in Kerala and we sent messages to our families.  Immediately, the Kerala rescuers took us to their hospital and took care of us; the next day they sent us home.

“We survived but we are not happy even today, because many of our friends and co-workers have not yet come back.  And many young brothers, friends, relatives and neighbors have lost their livelihood.”

Click here to read more about the after effects of the cyclone.

 

“Why do you go to India?”

Fr. Tom with the family of one of the Indian SCJs.

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.

Prayer in the midst of a festival

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.

 

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.

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!