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.

 

“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.

 

American, Vietnamese and Catholic

Fr. Ed and Henry with one of the formation communities in Vietnam

For two weeks in December Novices Henry Nguyen and Paul (Phong) Hoang traveled to the District of Vietnam with Fr. Ed Kilanski, SCJ, provincial superior of the US Province. Fr. Ed went to Vietnam to give a retreat and to meet with Fr. Francis Vu Tran, SCJ (district superior), about collaborative projects for the future. Fr. Ed invited the novices to join him so that they could learn more about the SCJ congregation (Dehonians) outside of the United States. 

For Henry, it was the first time that he visited the country of his parents’ birth. While there, he met relatives, including his grandmother, for the first time.  During his first week in Vietnam he wrote a reflection that was published on the province website. Click here to read it.

Back home, Henry reflected more fully on his time in Vietnam:

Henry

During our trip to Vietnam I often allowed myself to be “moved by the Spirit” (Constitution #23). Not only was this trip an intercultural experience for me but also an interreligious one as it reminded me of my time in my “Religious Experience in Context” class at Catholic Theological Union.

As we traveled around Vietnam, I saw how religion and culture intertwined. An experience that I had while at my Bác Yến’s house was praying for our ancestors by lighting incense and praying for them at the family’s altar in the living room. This is where I connected religion and culture as I was a Vietnamese Catholic and this was more Vietnamese with perhaps a Buddhist influence.

As I was mentally preparing to depart from Vietnam my family asked when I was coming back to see them. I can’t help but reminisce about the limited yet well-filled time that I had with my family. I am really thankful for the experience. I do not know when our paths will cross again, yet I know that although separated by an ocean, we are still very connected through prayer and God.

Aside from being immersed in my own culture and religious traditions, I continued to have the opportunity to be immersed in something unknown to me. As part of my novitiate year, I wanted to explore more of God’s wonder and beauty, and I was able to do just that as we visited northern Vietnam. We went to Hồ Hoàn Kiếm (Hoàn Kiếm Lake), which was filled with radiant beauty and a rich history of Vietnam. I visited Vịnh Hạ Long (Ha Long Bay); being there reminded me of the natural beauty that God bestows on all of us. Nhà Thờ Chính Tòa Phát Diệm (Phát Diệm Cathedral) was a destination that tourists often visit to see the architecture that is a blend of Vietnamese and European styles. We stopped by Hỏa Lò Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton, to see a glimpse of American history in Vietnam.

As I was visiting “someone else’s garden” I found comfort and security as no one questioned who I was or where I came from as long as I paid my respects and acted accordingly. It was a continued sense of welcome and hospitality at places like Chùa Một Cột (One Pillar Pagoda) and the Perfume Temple. We also had the chance to visit the largest Buddhist temple in Vietnam, Chùa Bái Đính (Bái Đính Temple). We saw visitors from all over the world there.

Henry had coconuts fresh from the tree, just as his father had as a boy

Candidates Huy and Thanh took me to our Dehon 2 community where I had an experience similar to what my dad had while growing up in Vietnam, which was having a fresh coconut that was just cut down from a coconut tree. Thank you, Thanh, for allowing me to experience that. As Dehon 1 was preparing for a Christmas gathering, the Dehon 2 community was getting ready for their own Christmas event that included neighbors joining them in their festivities.

Just before we left Vietnam (literally hours before we got ready to leave for the airport) the Dehon 1 formation community hosted a Christmas gathering for neighbors and benefactors. Over 100 people showed up for the joyous occasion. Dehon 1 – thank you for inviting me to sing and dance with you on stage, although I did not practice as much and as hard as you guys did. I was and still am amazed at your time and dedication in bringing this annual event to the community.

As we headed back to the United States on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, I reflected on the readings for the day. The Prophet Isaiah said in the first reading, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me” and I truly believed that the Spirit was with us as we journeyed through Vietnam, a place that quickly became familiar to me.

As a closing note, I reflected on the second reading, St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, to “Rejoice always.” Although I was sad to leave Vietnam, including its good food, and especially the people whom I met and bonded with, I must rejoice for having had this encounter with them. As I “retain what is good” I take this back with me as I continue my novitiate year.

I am now back at the Sacred Heart Novitiate, recognizing the three distinctive identities that I carry (Vietnamese, American and Catholic). I know that it sometimes can be hard to carry these identities together, but as long as I am willing and open, I can continue to be moved by the Spirit. I believe that it will help me to discern and do God’s will.

I do again want to thank Fr. Ed Kilianski, provincial superior of the U.S. Province, for his invitation to us novices to accompany him on his first trip to Asia.

And, thank you to the District of Vietnam for your hospitality! Một ngày nao, chúng ta sẽ gặp lại nhau, nhưng bây giờ luôn trong cầu nguyện. (One day, we will meet again, but for now, in prayer).

I can certainly say that my first trip to Vietnam will not be my last!