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placeholder INTRODUCTION

Day 1: Visit to a Hindu temple; Concord parish reaches out

Day 2: Learning the rules of the road

Day 3: Family visits in ‘Catholic’ India

Day 4: Chennai (Madras) – Time with an apostle

Day 5: Close look at an Eastern Rite Church

Day 6: Ubiquitous respect for each others’ religious beliefs

Day 7: Southern India home to vast tea fields

Day 8: Worship on a houseboat

Day 9: St. Alphonsa, India's first canonized saint

Day 10: Home shrines a standard feature

Day 11: Portuguese influence very clear in Goa

Day 12: The Portuguese influence

Day 13: Time for a little tourism

Day 14: Seeing ‘the king’s land’

Day 15: Taj Mahal builder sought to unify religion

Day 16: India’s oldest mosque

Day 17: Discussing world issues

Concluding reflections

placeholder January 23, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA

Bishop Cordileone’s pilgrimage to India

Visit to a Hindu temple; Concord parish reaches out

Day 1: Friday, Dec. 30

We touched down at the Bangalore airport at 1:30 a.m., and passed through customs and immigration in relatively short order. By the time we reached the Salesian Provincial House, however, it was 3:30. An hour later I was in bed, but awake again two hours after that (the 21 plane ride and 131⁄2 hour time difference was making itself felt).

We began with Mass and breakfast, and then it was off to our first stop on the first day of our tour: a Hindu temple of the Krishna-consciousness movement within Hinduism. Hindu custom requires those who wish to stand in a temple or on its precincts to remove their shoes, and the fact that it was raining was no justification for a dispensation (as we Catholics would put it). So wander upon the wet ground under the rain in our bare feet we did as we went in and out of the many chapels within the complex and observed the crowds of people as they uttered their prayers and sang their chants.

Of course, the removal of shoes before stepping into a sacred space is a practice not unfamiliar to the religious descendants of Abraham as well: as is well known, one must be unshod to enter a mosque; the Lord commanded Moses to remove his sandals when He appeared to him on Mount Sinai because it was “holy ground” (Ex 3:5), as He also did when He appeared to Joshua (Josh 5:13-15). In fact, it is the prevailing practice here for people to remove their shoes even upon entering a church.

My religious curiosity, not only with the different rites of the Christian Church present here but also with the Hindu religion, was a large motivating factor in my desire to visit India. This was the first time I had seen, let alone been in, a Hindu temple, and this was quite a large and complex one, with chapels dedicated to different Hindu gods, and one main area in which people chanted prayers and asked the priests present for special prayers or rituals.

Upon exiting the temple, they held their hands above a lit candle blessed by one of the priests and then gestured with the palms of their hands over their face, on top of their head, down the back of their neck and over their shoulders in what seemed to be a gesture of prayer for enlightenment.

I had the distinct impression – which was later confirmed for me – that this was not a typical temple. Besides its size, it seemed to betray a good deal of Western influence.

For one thing, the high ceiling was painted with colorful, Renaissance-style murals, something that could have come right out of one of the famous (or even not so famous) churches of Europe, but was very atypical for the Hindu tradition, especially in a temple, which is all sculpture.

But artistic style wasn’t the only thing: the temple had a large visitor’s center, with displays on the history and beliefs of the movement, literature and souvenirs for purchase, and a cafeteria-style food court. We are accustomed to seeing these sorts of things at the shrines that are pilgrimage destinations for us, but this is also something a bit out of character for them. But then again, this sort of cross-fertilization and learning from the other is inevitable whenever different cultures come into contact with each other.

What was typical was the devotion of the people, and to see groups of school children (from public schools) led by their teachers teaching them the traditional Hindu prayers.

As I learned, past conflicts aside, the poly-religious society that makes up India today is not a cause of conflict but, on the contrary, coalesces into a harmonious rhythm within the social fabric of the country. (The religious hostilities we hear about in Orissa state in east-central India are limited mostly to that area, and are not widespread at that.)

It is common for people to attend each other’s religious festivals; as I admired a church dedicated to our Lady through the closed glass doors which we visited later that day, a Muslim woman was standing there reciting her prayers; I then entered a chapel for Eucharistic adoration (having failed to remove my shoes!) and noticed a Hindu man walking in as I exited.

The leader of the opposition party in Parliament, a Hindu, celebrated Christmas in his home and pronounced a Christmas message to 300 people of all different religious beliefs. Every public occasion, including those of public schools, begins with some sort of a prayer or religious dance from one of the many religious traditions present in the society.

The afternoon was spent visiting some of the many centers that the Salesian fathers operate in Bangalore for street children. Approximately 60 street children, some as young as 6-years-old, arrive in this city of 51⁄2 million people every day. They come from neighboring villages, runaways from home for various reasons.

Currently there are an estimated 80,000 children living on the streets of Bangalore alone, where they are subject to unspeakable abuse. The Salesians have a very well-developed system for finding and rescuing these children the first day they arrive, and manage to do so for approximately one-third of them every day. After assessing the child’s identity and situation, they then take the next steps to provide the necessary assistance, reuniting the child with the child’s family whenever possible.

At the first center we visited I was greeted by the music of a marching band of about 50 boys, all in proper uniform and rank and file. Another group of boys greeted me inside, where they put on a show of different song and dance routines. Afterwards, I admired the crèche scene they had created and, of course, posed for the mandatory photographs.

After our visit to this center we were taken to a newly built facility where the children are assessed and processed when they are first rescued from the street. You can imagine my pride when they showed me the plaque at the entrance to the center dedicated to our own St. Bonaventure parish in Concord, which raised the funds necessary to build the center; throughout the building on the inside were other such expressions of thanks, also displaying the names of the pastor, Father Richard Mangini, and the lay leaders in the parish who made this happen.

It gave me great encouragement to see how our priests and people are putting their faith into action, and the very real and concrete fruits that come from it. It was also most inspiring and uplifting to see the pure charism of St. John Bosco living on and thriving through his spiritual sons in Bangalore.


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