Celebrating Feast of the Sacred Heart in Vietnam

Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, writes from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) where he is visiting with the formation community:

The study hall was turned into a chapel because our regular chapel was not large enough to welcome everyone for the feast-day Mass. Of course, this will all be rectified by next year’s celebration as work continues on the new chapel that will be done sometime before the end of the year. It certainly should have enough room for the entire district.

Our Mass for the feast was scheduled for 9:30 a.m., so it came as a bit of a surprise to me that our day still began with morning prayer (and Adoration) at 5:30 a.m. Apparently high days are no different from regular days — and I was looking forward to a little more sleep time!

Fr. Francis Vu Tran, SCJ, as the district superior, was our main celebrant. Though I didn’t count them I think there were about a dozen SCJ priests concelebrating. Though most days our Mass has been in English today it was in Vietnamese. To my foreign ear Vietnamese can be a beautiful language to listen to as, for example, when the congregation says the confiteor together it comes off almost as a song.

As part of our Mass we also had the renewal of vows of those in temporary vows, and two of the brothers were installed as Eucharistic Ministers. There were five brothers who renewed their vows in addition to the five who made their first profession last Thursday.

With photo opts taken care of it was time to dine! For today (as was also done for First Vows) a catering service was hired to provide the meal and service. We started with a beef dish, went from there to shrimp, to fish and vegetables cooked at the table and ended with some very delicious mango.

After the dinner everyone scattered to their rooms for a rest followed by a soccer match between Dehon I and Dehon II. For all it was a pleasant day and even Mother Nature held off her rains until the night time hours.

Happy Feast Day!

Why am I a brother?

Br. Diego (far left) with fellow SCJs preparing a meal

Today, May 1 (the feast of St. Joseph), is the second annual Religious Brothers Day. Br. Diego Diaz, a Dehonian from Argentina currently studying ESL at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, shares the following reflection:

The Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a religious family made up of both priests and religious brothers. Together, we live the gift of the love of Jesus that impels us to be missionaries wherever the Church calls us.

Many ask me why I am a brother and not a priest. On this day dedicated to the vocation of religious brothers, I’d like to share my responses to the question:

I AM A RELIGIOUS BROTHER because the first call of Jesus is to create in the world a universal brotherhood where we are all brothers and sisters in the same God.

I AM A RELIGIOUS BROTHER because I identify with that aspect of Jesus, to be a brother among brothers, serving from my ministry, creating new bonds of brotherhood and friendship wherever it is needed.

I AM A RELIGIOUS BROTHER because our Dehonian mission of oblation and availability makes us intercessors before God, working to make present the Kingdom of God in the realities where we are called to and sent by the community.

The vocation of brother is a call to us all, men and women, because the world has a universal thirst for fraternal and egalitarian relationships.

The heart of Jesus is the open heart of God who wants to become the brother of humanity and embrace it.

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.

Women who make history

Br. Diego playing guitar at a recent liturgy.


“What I do every day as my contribution to building a different world is to recommit myself to not being a part of a machismo and dominant part of society but instead walk with my sisters and friends who make history every day in the struggle to be themselves.”

-Br. Diego Diaz, SCJ


Br. Diego Diaz, an SCJ from Argentina studying in the ESL program at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, shares the following reflection that he wrote in commemoration of International Women’s Day, March 8.

Women’s Day is celebrated all over the world. Women in many parts of the Earth continue to fight for equal treatment.

Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology has a good number of women on its staff. They are teachers, admission officers, cooks, receptionists, secretaries, administrators and managers.

What struck me the most here is that there is an atmosphere of respect and egalitarianism. Surely there are always things that could improve, but the simple and everyday treatment surprised me; women are not treated as second class citizens here but play an important role in the formation of seminarians.

In my experience of ministering to women involved in prostitution I found that respect for others is the key. Men have to know and understand that they must try to see issues from a woman’s point of view and to treat them equally.  Many women in the United States carry out tasks that in our Latin American countries are only men’s fields, such as driving a bus, flying a plane, driving trucks or heavy machines, etc. Women’s soccer teams are popular in high schools here, and they perform well.

Equality means not just doing the same tasks that men do, but to take it a step further and also recognize the differences of women. Men should take into account who women really are.

Equality is not just women dressed as men, or women with male traits. They are simply women, and each is a unique individual who gives color to life on this earth. This is the key to our relationships with each other.

What I do every day as my contribution to building a different world is to recommit myself to not being a part of a machismo and dominant part of society but instead walk with my sisters and friends who make history every day in the struggle to be themselves.

“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.