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On retreat in India

Retreatants with Fr. Martin (seated next to Fr. Tom, who is on the far left)

Retreatants with Fr. Martin (seated next to Fr. Tom, who is on the far left)

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes about his past week on retreat with members of the SCJ community in India:

The retreat ran from Monday ,beginning with adoration, and ended on Saturday with an 11:00 am Mass. There were 15 of us making the retreat for SCJs living in Kerala, though a few came from Andhra Pradesh, and the two cities of Chennai and Mumbai. The retreat was led by Fr. Martin van Ooij, SCJ, whom I consider the founding father of our Indian District.

During my first term on the General Council Indonesia was part of the congregation that fell under my purview. In 1994, when we decided to begin our Dehonian presence in India upon the invitation of an Indian bishop from Kerala, it was important to find someone to spearhead our efforts. It would not be an easy task and could not follow the very successful model the congregation developed in the Philippines due to the difficulty of foreign missionaries entering the country. Fr. Martin was a Dutch missionary working in the diocese of Lampung and by all accounts was just the man who could pull it off.

Fr. Martin often recounts the meeting our general superior (now Bishop Virginio Bressanelli, SCJ) and I had with him asking him to take up this challenge. On our flight from Bangalore to Vijayawada this morning he told me the Indonesian Provincial Council was reluctant to let him go but he convinced them it was just as important for Indonesia to allow him to do this as it would be for the success of our Indian endeavors. Over the ensuing 20 years many SCJs came and went due to various issues from denial of visas to difficulty coping with the food and climate among other things. But one of the constants was Fr. Martin until his visa was revoked by the Indian government in, I believe, 2011.

He still keeps his finger in the pie and enjoys tremendous respect from our young Indian SCJs.

I would add that four SCJs who have died and spent considerable time in India are also well remembered and respected. Two of them are very familiar to American SCJs: Fr. Thomas Garvey, who died in India following an operation and Fr. Thomas Fix, who also was a missionary for many years in Indonesia and died of cancer several years ago in his beloved Indonesia.

Retreat house

Retreat house

The retreat center, or Atmadarshan, is attached to the Sacred Heart Philosophical College run by the Carmelites (and where our SCJ philosophy students take their courses) and is located along the banks of the most important river in Kerala. It is a nice quiet oasis in the middle of the bustling city of Aluva.

Though on retreat I did continue my daily walks. One can meditate on the move just as easily as when in a fixed position. I did, in deference to the request by Fr. Martin that we shut off all modern means of communications, do my walks listening to my own inner voice rather then that of an Audible Book, my usual daily walking companion.

At first I walked along the main street not far from the campus but soon enough found a warren of back streets that were quiet and well suited to a quiet and peaceful walk, to say nothing about being a lot safer then the heavily traveled main drag. My one disturbance on these jaunts was running into a number of our philosophy students coming out of their final exams (usually orals) and heading home. They have a two kilometer walk to a bus stop and then a five kilometer bus ride home

As for the retreat, it was a silent affair. We were asked to spend three hours in mediation and on the first night to fix the time and place where this would take place (I chose the chapel). In addition we each had two meetings with Fr. Martin. He held a very brief morning conference more or less stating the objectives (guidelines) for the day. It usually lasted 15 minutes. The afternoon conference lasted anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and was more practical in nature

Briefly, the theme of the retreat was “Consecrated Life,” since the Church is in the midst of celebrating a year dedicated to Consecrated Life. Before and after the retreat both Fr. Martin and I spent a couple of days at our Aluva philosophy house. I was glad for this opportunity as I have not spent much time there and it was a good chance to mingle with the students as their school year draws to a close.

The two of us left Aluva this morning at 6:30 am for our flight from Kochi to Bangalore and then from Bangalore to Vijayawada. With each flight taking about an hour and the layover in Bangalore, we landed in Vijayawada at noon. The ride from the airport to our Eluru house takes just under and hour and now I’ve got three days here before heading to the novitiate.

SH at retreat center India

Four SCJs ordained to the diaconate!

Bishop Gali Bali lays hands on each of those to be ordained.

Bishop Gali Bali lays hands on each of those to be ordained.

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes about the recent diaconate ordinations in India:

Saturday was a day of celebration, even though we are at the start of Lent. The reason for our joy was the ordination of four SCJs who, having completed their year of regency, and making their final (perpetual) profession of vows in December, were ordained by Bishop Gali Bali of the diocese of Guntur. This is at least the third or fourth time I’ve met the bishop. My first encounter with him was in 2011, for presbyterial ordinations at his cathedral and that, by the way, was the year of my introduction to India.

The ordination ceremony was slated to begin at 5:30 pm at our Gorantla minor seminary.It’s about a 20 to 30 minute drive from our novitiate house in Nambur. The ordinations were held there since all four deacons are from the state of Andhra Pradesh. That made it easy for family and friends to attend, as I believe all four are from around the Guntur area.

I know each of the deacons but not to the same degree. I am most familiar with Dn.Ravi Kumar Dasari who did his regency at our minor seminary in Kumbalanghi. Ravi was very helpful to me during each of my stays in his community. He wass the essence of SCJ hospitality in making me feel at home and a part of his community.

To a lesser degree I have spent some time with Dn. Kishore Thambi Babu who served at our other minor seminary in Gorantla. It was a good experience for the minor seminarians to see someone with whom they’ve lived and listened to for the past year advance to the order of deacon.

Dn. Suresh Gottam spent his regency at our Sacred Heart parish in Vempadu. Once he arrived in Vempadu it was possible for the district to establish a separate community from the seminary and made it much easier for Fr. Jojappa to serve the needs of the parish. The community is currently renting a house and, thanks to a large donation from our Northern Italian Province, is about to begin construction on a community house.

Finally there is Dn. Dumala Raju whose regency was at our philosophy house of studies in Aluva in Kerala (about a half hour from Kumbalanghi). While this is the first house I ever visited in India (2011) it is the one I’ve spent the least amount of time in and therefore am not as acquainted with the community.

Three of the deacons will soon get pastoral assignments in the diocese of Guntur. We currently have very few SCJ parishes and with Guntur being close to both Nambur and Gorantla (as well as only about an hour and half to two hours from Eluru) using local Guntur parishes makes sense. All four deacons will be assigned as deacons through Holy Week of 2016, after which their priestly ordination will take place.

Dn. Suresh, since he was already in a parish setting for his regency, will continue working in our Sacred Heart parish with Fr. Jojappa. While it is in the diocese of Eluru it is close to our other SCJ communities in Andhra Pradesh and close to his deacon classmates.

Gorantla students provided the choir for the deacon ordinations as well as all the typical"‘practical" things (such as serving the guests) that go into any celebration.

Gorantla students provided the choir for the deacon ordinations as well as all the typical”‘practical” things (such as serving the guests) that go into any celebration.

As for their ordination, it began almost on time. Once we priests and the other ministers and deacons lined up, our master of ceremonies for the day, Fr. Ravindra Moparthi from Nambur gave us what seemed to me to be a life history for each deacon. As practically all of the ceremony was done in Telugu I was not privy to what was said. But ever so often in each presentation I’d hear words like Kumbalanghi, Gorantla, Aluva, Nambur and Eluru so I figured he was telling us where and when each of the candidates studied and worked as regents.

There is an African expression that goes something like this: “You Westerners tell time, we Africans have time.” Not far off the mark in the sense that things in Africa and here in India are not rushed, and spending three hours at a deacon ordination, well that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

The music was provided by the students of Gorantla under the direction of Fr. Jijo Voice, who joined the Gorantla community last year, and Fr. Marianand Garargapu, the treasurer at the novitiate community in Nambur; and finally the keyboard was played by Fr. Abraham Lazar associate pastor at Divine Mercy Parish, Vasai (near Mumbai).

It took just over two-and-a-half hours from start to finish and then we all strolled up onto the roof where the meal for the community and guests was served. The Gorantla students were responsible for set up and serving it under the direction of Fr. Michael Benedict, district treasurer and a member of the Gorantla staff, The meal was excellent and gave me more practice eating with my hands.

As we had the ride home staring us in the face and ministry assignments for Sunday Fr. Mariano, six of the brothers and I piled into our mini-van and headed for home. We made it back just after 11:00 pm and soon I was in bed knowing 5:30 am would arrive soon enough, and it did!

Fat Tuesday in India

Taking a "Thank you" picture for the benefactor who donated the grill to the formation community.

Taking a “Thank you” picture for the benefactor who donated the grill to the formation community.

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes the following from the SCJ Scholasticate in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh (India):

Lent began at the stroke of midnight just about the time the brothers came up the drive from their night out on the town. The day started early with birthday greetings to Br. Vineeth, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Fat Tuesday. Since there are no local customs connected with the day before Lent we began our own last year. I did learn that there is a carnival in Goa just before the start of Lent lasting three days. I suspect that Portuguese influence can be credited with creating that local Goan custom.

Our own pre-Lenten doings lasted two days. It began on Monday evening with a barbecue prepared by Fr. Mariano. Originally this was supposed to take place when the novices and postulants were here for their cricket match but that didn’t work so instead it was scheduled for Monday evening. It marked the inauguration of the community grill, a gift of a friend of Fr. Mariano’s from Germany.

Our meal was delayed by about 30 minutes while the charcoal was being made. No bag of charcoal from the local 7-11 or supermarket chain! Instead, some of the brothers used excess wood to make their own. Of course rice was featured along with grilled beef and grilled tuna. It took some doing but Fr. Mariano finally found mayo in Vijayawada which he used to make a tuna salad as well.

Fat Tuesday began with a birthday cake!

Fat Tuesday began with a birthday cake!

You might say the barbecue was a warm-up to Tuesday’s doings. That, as already noted, began with the breakfast birthday greetings to Br. Vineeth along with the traditional cutting of the cake with the house superior feeding a morsel to Vineeth and he in turn to Fr. Mariano. This is a wedding custom in the States but here it is done on many special occasions.

In the evening we all squeezed into our minivan, jeep and bike to head off to the Pizza Company, the only pizza joint in all of Eluru. We began this custom last year as a way of celebrating Fat Tuesday: pizza and ice cream!

While we were waiting to get our tables the brothers lobbied Fr. Mariano that they should all go to the nearby cinema after dinner for the 9:00 pm showing of a Telugu film. With Lent starting in a few hours going to the movies would be out of the question and apparently it’s been a long time since last they set foot in the local movie house. So off they went, enjoying the last of Fat Tuesday celebrations before Lent would begin.

Despite the late night, all were up and at ’em at 6 am for morning prayers followed by a trip to the Brothers of the Holy Family where both communities shared the opening of Lent with Mass and ashes.

Novices, postulants and livestock

Indian students take a break from their soccer game.

Indian students take a break from their soccer game.

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India:

We are expecting the novices and postulants from Nambur this morning, but before the first batch arrived by train both our cow and pigs on the grounds were out rummaging for food. Our sow had nine piglets and she’s now down to 7 as two of them have been given to nearby communities. We don’t have enough land to support this many pigs so more will be given away. The sow is fed our leftovers (and usually there isn’t very much of that) and the Brothers of the Holy Family send theirs as well. In turn they get pork (or maybe a live pig) from our small herd — if that’s what you call a group of pigs a herd.

The first group of novices and postulants arrived about a half hour ago.They were supposed to arrive at the Eluru train station at 8:00 am, but were a bit late. I’m not sure from what station they left for our place as Nambur is a very small community so I’m guessing it was either Guntur or Vijayawada. The rest of the novices and postulants will be coming by car. There are 10 novices and six postulants. As the novitiate has only one minivan there is not enough room to bring them all by car. That is a problem for all our houses as vehicles are limited to usually one car and a couple of bikes. We’re fortunate in Eluru to have the 14-year-old jeep in addition to the house minivan.

Besides the pigs and cow we also have a flock of free range chickens. I’m not sure how many there are but enough that from time to time we enjoy home-grown chicken as opposed to chickens purchased on the open market. I usually know when it’s the house variety by the racket that takes place just before John, our cook, dispatches the bird of the day. Usually as well I’ll see some feathers not too far from the kitchen door where the unlucky bird met its fate.

The community cow tries to make a goal!

The community cow tries to make a goal!

Our one and only cow thinks it’s part human as it has no contact with others of its kind. If you let it on the soccer field it will butt the ball, but as far as I know it has never scored a goal.

Last year we also had a herd of goats but there just isn’t enough land (about six acres) to support them, and besides they tended to eat everything in sight, including Fr. Mariano’s vegetable garden. He has enough trouble trying to keep the cow from eating the grass he’s trying to grow.

At one time they tried raising fish here but it gets too hot in summer to keep the fish alive. That does not stop the community from eating lots of fish. Our freezer is now full thanks to this week’s trip to the coast. It should last us about two months. I haven’t’ met an Indian yet who does not like fish and probably prefers fish over meat. One advantage of eating with your hands is that it’s much easier to pick out the bones ahead of time. I’ve pretty much avoided fish because of the bone issue. Today we are supposed to have some grilled tuna in honor of our guests and I’ll give it a try.

Tattered breviary a fond memento of the Philippines

Fr. John Czyzynski shares his last two journal entries from the Philippines:

Fr. John

Fr. John

FEBRUARY 10 – On Saturday morning when I entered the chapel for morning prayer and Mass I received a surprise which I am going to treasure as a memento of my visit to our novitiate here in the Philippines. One of the dogs had gotten into the chapel during the night and played with my breviary the way they do with sandals they find. The cover has teeth marks on it and the additional leather cover had been thoroughly chewed. The ribbons were found on the grounds, two pages had sections torn out, but one of the novices found those missing pieces so I can tape them back together. I was going to buy a new cover when I got back to the States, but I thought and prayed about it and I have decided to keep the chewed up cover on my breviary. Whenever I pick up my breviary I will smile and pray for the guys in the novitiate at Padagian in Zambuango del Sur.

Later on Saturday one of the novices (Son James Nguyen – a familiar name to some in the US) held a day of recollection for 67 seventh graders (young people about 12 to 15 years old).  It started at 8:30 a.m. and went till about 4:30. The theme was “God is Love”.  He began by explaining to them what a day of recollection means.  He gave a presentation on ways to pray. Then he gave them questions to reflect on in the large group:  Who is God to you, who is Jesus to you?

He gave them questions/statements such as the following:  I love my parents because….I love my school because….I love God because …I love friends because…How do I make God smile at me?  I am happy because…. I am sad because….  The young folks reflected on these questions in silence till noon.

After lunch they gathered in groups of eight or so and shared what they had reflected on. They did that until 2:30 and then had a meditation period for about 45 minutes and closed with Mass.  Before Mass he had a short talk on repentance and reconciliation.  The kids seem to have had a great time.  It was great to see such good youth ministry going on at our novitiate here.  The kids had gathered at our parish down the hill from the novitiate and were brought up the hill in an open flatbed truck that had benches for them to sit on.   There must have been 30 of them at a time in the back of the truck. Reminded me of when Brother Conrad would haul us to Plymouth, Indiana. from Donaldson so we could catch trains and buses to go back to our homes for vacations.

On Sunday after Mass and breakfast Fr. Rico, Fr. Johannes and I headed to Cagayan d’ Oro where the house of formation is – the place that I spent my first two weeks here.  It feels like I am heading home.  It takes about five to six hours for the trip.  I noticed the guys here don’t use seat belts unless they are in town where they will get ticketed and fined for not wearing them (Johannes wears his when he takes a nap (no he was not driving!)  After going about two hours or so Fr. Rico pulled off the road at a restaurant and said what I heard as “cigar”. I thought he was going to buy a cigar to smoke as he drove.  What he said was “C.R.” which stands for “comfort room” which is what they call the lavatories here.

We had evidence of the Muslim presence in the area we were driving through. A caravan of about 50 or 60 cars passed us on the other side of the road. Every vehicle was decorated with yellow and red balloons on each side of the car. They said it was the wedding party of probably a pretty significant person in the area. That was a peaceful Muslim presence.

As we drove on there was a reminder of another kind of Muslim presence.  Fr. Rico said we were passing through the area where we SCJs were before, but after Fr. Beppe was kidnapped by a Muslim group the SCJs decided to move to safer areas.

Shortly before we got back to the house of formation we stopped for a visit at a huge shrine of the Divine Mercy (think Stockbridge, Mass, the Marian Fathers and our picture of the Sacred Heart, minus the mercy rays).  There is a statue of Jesus about 50 feet tall on the top of this high hill and the statue looks out over the valley onto the sea.  Very impressive.

A quiet week at Cagayan d’ Oro at the house of formation.  Most of the community is gone on the community vacation.  I am relaxing here before heading to Manila on Thursday where I will have some time with the post-novitiate group before returning to the US on Valentine’s Day.




FEBRUARY 13 – I spent Wednesday saying goodbye to folks at the Formation House at Cagayan d’ Oro and did my packing.  Since Wednesday supper was my last at Cagayan d” Oro we celebrated with pasta in addition to rice at the meal and ice cream for dessert.

Thursday morning Fr. Indra and I flew from Cagayan d”Oro to Manila (but not before a flurry of photos being taken by the students).  We were met there by a couple of the students who took us to our place.  It is located in the greater Metro Manila area (the NCR, the National Capitol Region as they refer to it) but the name of the area we are in is Quezon City.  We had some lunch and I unpacked and started repacking some stuff for the trip back to the States on Saturday.

cross_necklaceI had some time so I thought I would take a chance and visit a religious house I had passed when I was on my way to a parish where I offered Mass the second day I was here.  It is the convent of a group of sisters called “The Adorers of the Blood of Christ.”  I knew the group through Sr. Maria Hughes who was one of the presenters of an Intercommunity Novitiate session.  I rang the bell and a sister came to let me in the gate.  I said my name and said I was a Priest of the Sacred Heart, a Dehonian.  She said:  “I know.  I see your cross.” I was wearing the “mission cross” given to me by Juancho at a little ceremony our community had just before I left for the Philippines. Our young guys always talk about “branding”. I experienced what they are getting at.

Anyhow I had a delightful visit with the Sisters.  Our two houses are just around the corner from each other.  The Sisters know our guys so well.  They are involved in ministry with them and our guys gather to preside at Eucharist with them. I felt like I met women who were sisters of mine.

Back at our house I went down to the chapel for Evening Prayer and Adoration.  I was surprised to see everyone’s shoes lying outside the chapel.  No one wears shoes in the chapel, what was it that God said to Moses as he approached the burning bush?

Late Friday morning Fr. Indra took me to the shrine of Jesu Nazareno; I mentioned Jesu Nazareno before.  It is a figure of Jesus with darkened skin like one who has labored in the sun.  He is carrying the cross and is crowned with thorns, but he is wearing very festive garments.  They symbolize his victory over suffering and death.  There is a great devotion to Jesus here under this title.  Very popular with men.  The Church was packed.  Mass is being offered continually all day. We arrived just as Mass was ending. It was very moving for me to see the crowd — men and women and of all ages — standing with their arms raised singing and then clapping as Mass ended.

Friday evening I had a session with the guys who are in temporary vows. They responded very positively to what I was sharing.  Afterward they gave me a thank-you note and gift: a CD that Fr. Arthur (nickname:  Fr Totong) made.  He is the vocation director and has a great voice.

Fr. Indra was asked to have Mass tomorrow at a nearby parish.  The priest there is ill.  So I will have the Mass here and after breakfast Fr. Indra will take me to the airport.  I leave Hong Kong at 6:45 pm (their time) and arrive in Chicago at 7:15 (Chicago time).  So by the clock the trip will take a half hour, but in reality it is a 14 and 1/2 hour trip.

These have been wonderful days for me.  I feel I have been greatly blessed by the folks here and I feel God has used me to bless them.

Sunday in Vampadu

Fr. Tom with the Dehonian Youth Group in Vempadu.  "On my right is the local village council," writes Fr. Tom. "It consists of members of the three major faiths: Hindu, Muslim and Catholic.

Fr. Tom with the Dehonian Youth Group in Vempadu. “On my right is the local village council,” writes Fr. Tom. “It consists of members of the three major faiths: Hindu, Muslim and Catholic.

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from India:

When the district council met in Nambur I promised, Fr. Jojappa Chinthapalli, SCJ, a member of the council and pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Vempadu, that I would visit him soon and this morning I was able to keep my promise. Vempadu is about 35 to 40 kilometers from our scholasticate and is the one parish the SCJs staff in the Diocese of Eluru. In addition to the main church it also has three sub-stations.

This morning I was traveling with Fr. Joseph Gopu, SCJ, and four of the students: Joseph Thambi, SCJ, and Harish Kumar, SCJ, both in their second year of theology, and Thambi Joseph, SCJ, and Syam, SCJ, both in their first year of theology. Joseph Thambi and Syam are the house musicians and take turns playing the keyboard and leading the community in song during our various liturgical services.

We got on the road around 6:45 am and our first task was to pick up three Dominican sisters who come each Sunday to help with the singing and teaching of catechism after Mass.

Before picking up the sisters, we dropped off Br. Vineeth, SCJ and Anu, SCJ who do their Sunday pastoral assignment at the cathedral in Eluru.

Sacred Heart Church

Sacred Heart Church

Once we left Eluru it took us about 20 to 25 minutes to get to Vempadu. Our Mass took about two hours. Of course it was said in the local language so I had to follow along in my English missal. Fr. Jojappa’s homily lasted about 20 minutes. That’s standard for the local area — in fact I was told the people would be disappointed if the homily was any less then that.

At the end of Mass I was thanked for the contribution of $5,000 for the building of the bell tower. I told them that they should thank the US Province as I was simply the agent who asked if our province would support this request. The young man who thanked me did it first in Telugu and then in very good English. It turns out he teaches English.

While we were celebrating our Mass Fr. Gopu and Brs. Harish and Thambi Joseph along with Br. Suresh, SCJ, took the two motorbikes to say Mass in two of the sub-stations. The roads are in such condition that the motorbike is better suited then the minivan that we came in.

I had the chance after Mass to chat with some of the Dehonian youth; most do not know English, or at least that was my presumption. When I say “youth” that can cover between the last two years of high school to, I’m guessing, age 35. All the youth with whom I was talking had full-time jobs which included an electrician, two government workers and an English teacher to name a few. Two of the men were married. Fr. Jojappa said he just started a lay Dehonian group for families.

My stay ended when the two motorcycles returned with our brothers and Fr. Gopu and we headed back home, but first dropping off the sisters at the Dominican convent. We were the first to be back and ate our meal before any of the other brothers returned from their respective pastoral assignments.

Continuing to enjoy the beauty, food and community of the Philippines

The Philippine novitiate

The Philippine novitiate

Fr. John Czyzynski  writes from the Philippines:

Well, they said the novitiate here in Padagian (the city) Zambuanga del Sur (the province) is nice — that is an understatement.  It is unbelievable.   so beautiful.  And I feel like I am on retreat.  Every day we pray (and in part chant) all the hours of the Liturgy of Hours.  We also have meditation and the rosary and adoration together.  That barely leaves me time for my daily walk and a nap.  Just kidding, of course.  I am giving a couple of talks to the novices (we have four here)  One of them is raising what looks like morning doves that he raises from just after they are hatched.

I thought I would have a chance to visit the families of two of the 44 police officers who were killed by the Muslim Liberation front, but that did not work out. These two men belong to one of the parishes we have here.

My dietary repertoire continues to expand.  I have eaten goat meat and fruits I never heard of:  marang,  durien, star apples, jack fruit. It is amazing to see jack fruit growing.  Picture a tree with watermelons hanging from the branches.  You got it.

Fr. John

Fr. John

Tuesday I visited our parish at Kumalarang.  This is one of the first places where the SCJs settled when we came to the Philippines. (we already have two SCJ priests who came from that parish) At  present time two of our men are there:  Fr. Showe from India and Fr. Candido a rather newly ordained Filipino priest.  We shared a nice meal of mostly seafood because that is the kind of food that is available.  What we might consider luxury food in the United States is a staple here because it is so  close to the sea.

It is a very poor area materially speaking but rich in so many other ways. Our guys raise livestock of various kinds as sources of food and as sources for income:  pigs (I didn’t know this but a pig can have three or four litters in one year and have 8-14 piglets each time), chickens and roosters, fish, rice.   I think there was something else but that is all I remember.   The Christmas tree was still up on the parish grounds.  Really unique and proper to this locale.  The tree is made of what is available. The “trunk” is a 45-foot tall bamboo tree.  Then palm tree leaves are hung from and extended out from the bamboo trunk so that what you get is what looks like a 45-foot tall tee-pee.  This structure is then decorated with various lights and other decorations.

The people in the area are poor so periodically there are what Fr. Showe says are called “free marriages.:”   Our guys welcome folks who cannot afford a wedding celebration to have their wedding at the parish.  There are a number of couples and their guests there for the occasion. Our guys cover the cost of a very nice meal for them after the wedding ceremony.  People of the parish support this generous celebration.  A favorite dish for this occasion would be a huge roasted pig or maybe two of them.

I experienced my first power failure here on Tuesday.  We have a generator that can supply power for everything but the refrigerator.  That requires too much “juice.”

On Wednesday Fr. Suanto ( the director of novices) took me to see the cathedral in Padagian, the see that governs our places here in the province of Zambuanga del Sur.  The cathedral  is wide open never closed.  There is a chapel for perpetual adoration.   After seeing the cathedral we went to a mall so I could do some shopping.

I washed a load of laundry and I had to learn the system.  There are two tubs next to each other. One is for washing and rinsing and the other for a spin cycle.  You put your clothes in the tub for washing and fill it with water from a hose nearby and add detergent.  After letting the machine wash the clothes for about 15 minutes, you remove the clothes and put them in the spin cycle tub.  While that is going on you empty the tub where you washed the clothes and then refill it with water for rinsing. You do that a couple times. After the clothes have been rinsed thoroughly you soak them in a pail with fabric softener added to the water for 15-20 minutes. Then you spin cycle the clothes and hang them on the lines to dry.  The drying area is covered so you don’t have to worry about rain.

In the evening we went to our parish in Dumalinao just down the hill from the novitiate. We gathered to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the ordination of Fr. Marshall (one of the priests at our parish in Dumalinao).

Friday being the first friday we had a day of recollection here at the novitiate.  I was asked to give a conference to the community and be the presider and homilist at the Mass.  It is actually a morning of recollection preceded by the Holy Hour the evening before.  In the afternoon work period Fr. Rico, the superior, and the novices, harvested coconuts.   I was thinking that was a sharp contrast to the work being done at our house of formation in Chicago.  I imagine that instead Br. Duane and the guys were shoveling the sidewalks and parking lot.  Different worlds.

The prayer list

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from Eluru, India:

A member of the Carmelite community near Eluru

A member of the Carmelite community near Eluru

This morning the community rose a half hour early so that we could leave the house at 6:00 am to celebrate Mass for a Monasery of Carmelite nuns. It’s about a 25-minute drive into Eluru from our house. Actually it’s right next door to the convent of Dominican Sisters who accompany our brothers on Sundays to help at Sacred Heart Parish (Vempadu).

The monastery has a church attached to it and many people from the local area come for daily Mass. The Dominican Sisters, for example, walk over from their nearby house to attend Mass. The rest of the congregation is made up of local residents and a number of young women beginning their formation as sisters.

We had a division of labor for this liturgy. I was the celebrant, Fr. Joseph Gopu, SCJ, gave the introduction and Fr. Mariano, SCJ, the homily. We were also joined by the sister’s chaplain who gave a short talk at the end of Mass not only thanking us for coming but for what our SCJ community does for the church of Eluru. He especially mentioned Fr. Jojoppa, SCJ, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish.

The community has a minivan, a 14-year-old jeep, (purchased originally by Br. Leonard Zaworski, SCJ) and two motorbikes. With 17 students and three priests it took all four vehicles to transport us to the monastery.

Before we left to head home the sisters asked us to write our names in their prayer intention book and promised to pray for us. When told that the brothers would be going on vacation when school finished in March the mother superior said to them: “Don’t come back unless you have a candidate for our community.” I believe there are between 12 and 14 sisters but they are all up in years and need some young blood. The cloistered life is not an easy one and in today’s world men and women find it less attractive then it once might have been. Still it is a beautiful way life and the Church needs men and women who devote themselves to a life of prayer. I’m happy to know my name is now on their prayer list!

At the end of Mass and before we left the chapel the house chaplain exposed the Blessed Sacrament for day-long Eucharistic adoration. One of the prayer tasks the nuns have is to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament with each sister taking turns; probably an hour at a time.

Inspired by the people, and SCJ missionaries, in the Philippines

Fr. John

Fr. John

Fr. John Czyzynski writes from the Philippine Region where he has been assisting with the formation program for the past few weeks:

On Wednesday afternoon/early evening Fr. Jan took me to our mission church at Dansolihon about a 45 minute ride from the formation house where I am staying. It is 400 meters above sea level [about 1,300 feet] so it is cooler up there. My heart goes out to these guys.  Three of our men are there:  Jan from Poland, Johannes from Indonesia and Pjoe (pronounced as it is written) from the Philippines.  Their rooms are tiny shoeboxes about 10 by 15 feet.  The toilet is primitive.  There is a commode in the room and a bucket with water to flush the toilet.  They do have TV but no internet access.

In this tough situation their spirit is inspiring.  They showed me a statue of Jesu Nazareno.  Jesus is portrayed as a man whose skin has been darkened by exposure to the sun.  I was surprised to hear that there is a strong devotion among men to Jesus portrayed in this way.  He is a worker like them and they connect with Him.

After our visit there we went to a residence we run for young people (ages 12-19).  They call them “scholars”. They live at our residence and have a chance to go to school and study.  If they were with their families they would be working in the field and even if they went to school, they would never have a chance to study at home.  One of the girls (14 years of age) was taken from our residence by her parents because they had received a cow (or the value of a cow) from a man who wanted to marry her.  The legal marrying age is 16.  The parents wanted the money.  It worked out all right and the girl was able to come back to the residence.

The “scholars” sleep on plywood on the floor.  The wood is covered with mats of some kind.  It is harsh but better than they would have at home.

I felt that I was being treated like the Pope.  When Fr. Jan and I arrived, young girls came out and placed orchid wreaths around our necks. They asked questions and sang for us and when we were leaving they were waving and shouting “We love you.”  Very touching and humbling.

Today I had my last class with the seven postulants.  They are a great group:  bright, inquisitive and fun. Besides the sessions with the formation directors and classes with the postulants, and presiding at some Masses,  I am busy hearing confessions, helping with English pronunciation and discussing questions/topics on theology and religious life.

Friday was a day of mourning for the 44 Filipino police officers who were killed by members of the Muslim Liberation Front.  When I go to the novitiate on Sunday one of the guys is going to take me to the families of two of the men who were killed.  Their families belong to our parish near the novitiate.

Saturday evening I had Mass at a residence we run for young girls who have been sexually abused. [Kasanag Daughters Foundation] They range in age from 9-19, but they look so young.  Your heart goes out to them. They really enjoyed the visit and sang for all of us and they sang wonderfully.

When I got back to the formation house they were holding a birthday celebration for everyone who had a birthday in January.  They celebrate all the birthdays of the month on the last Saturday of the month.  They start the celebration with a prayer and then the singing of the national anthems of Vietnam and the Philippines. After that the guys put on skits.  One of the formation directors and I were asked to be judges of the performances.

Well tomorrow I am off to the novitiate.

Fr. John leads a discussion with formators in the Philippines.

Fr. John leads a discussion with formators in the Philippines.

“Literally” building the church in India

The new bell tower going up at Sacred Heart Church in Vempada.

The new bell tower going up at Sacred Heart Church in Vempada.

Fr. Tom Cassidy’s latest journal entry from India:

Fr. Jojappa Chinthapalli, SCJ, is a member of the district council and pastor of Sacred Heart parish with its three sub-stations. It is usually referred to as “Vempada,” the village in which the central church is located. Last fall the US Province gave a grant of $5,000 to construct a bell tower which, as you can see from the photo, is well underway. In fact, Fr. Jojappa was eager to get back from the district council meeting last Thursday by 7:00 pm as he had to round up about 30 people to help provide labor on Friday to get the roof tiles up to the men doing the actual work.

This is not the only construction project in the parish. Our North Italian Province is providing funds to construct a parish/community house. Presently Fr. Jojappa and Br. Suresh, SCJ, arenliving in a rented house. Suresh just completed his regency year with Fr. Jojappa and will be one of four regents to be ordained deacons on February 21 at Gorantla — our minor seminary about 60 to 90 minutes from Eluru, depending on traffic.

Construction has not yet started on the parish house though it is hoped it can begin shortly as construction season is about to start. As the weather gets hotter I presume that it is similar to what takes place in cities like Phoenix in the United States where as summer approaches it is simply too hot to work in the middle of the day.

I have not seen plans for the community house. At present it is a community of two but the parish could easily use another priest especially with the limited pastoral support the scholasticate is able to provide at this time.

I will be visiting the parish a week from Sunday. It’s an easy day for me to go as several of the scholastics go there every Sunday along with a couple of Dominican Sisters from Eluru to assist in the liturgy at the principal church. When I say “liturgy” this includes rosary and adoration before Mass. Of course the Mass will be in Telugu so my participation will be limited.

Harish and kids

Br. Harish with children after Mass

Last Sunday I asked Br. Harish to use their new camera [Fr. Tom used frequent flyer points to get a camera for the formation community] and take some pictures. Here is one of some of the boys and girls, along with Harish, after Mass following some activities conducted by our SCJ brothers and the Dominican sisters.

This Sunday I am going to ask one of the brothers to take some photos at a different parish ministry site. All the students have some sort of pastoral work and for the most part it is done on Sunday mornings. Some of the students go into Eluru or to the surrounding villages and often are involved in teaching catechism.