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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

Learning the rules of the road

Day 2: Saturday, Dec. 31

Today we took a trip to the neighboring city of Mysore. Although much smaller than Bangalore, it is distinguished by its rich history and culture, with Bangalore being more the economic and business center of the area and experiencing rapid growth more recently. The last stronghold of Muslim power in the area, Mysore fell to the British in 1799, giving Britain total control over India.

The story goes that the Muslim ruler Tipu, a fierce warrior, was betrayed by his own men. Fighting against the British in an impregnable fortress, the British bribed one of his soldiers to let them in. Tipu fought to the end, but eventually succumbed to the British sword.

We first visited his tomb, a very large, ornate structure on the classic Islamic architectural style which houses the tombs of all of the family members.

The next stop was the main purpose of our venture to Mysore: a visit to the royal palace, home to the Maharajahs, the Hindu kings ruling over the area. After the British defeat of the Muslim powers, the Maharajahs were allowed to return to their palace.

“The” palace is actually a series of buildings, including some temples, on a huge, sprawling campus. All of the buildings were characterized by rich and finely detailed art work, much of it depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. It spoke to me of the dynamic between faith and culture, and how all of the cultural arts – music, art, architecture, literature, etc. – find such a high level of expression when religion and culture are inextricably enmeshed, resulting, over centuries of development, in a unique spiritual tradition which provides the language for communicating what is noblest in the human spirit.

Our final stop was a visit to the church of Saints Joseph and Philomena, the Cathedral of the Diocese of Mysore. Although not a large structure, it is built in the classic Gothic style, and is taller than it is wide.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the church is a plaque at the entrance, expressing thanks to “His Highness, our Maharajah.” It was the Hindu king who financed the rebuilding of the Cathedral in the 1950s, another sign of the cooperation among the different religious groups so characteristic of Indian society.

Already early on during my visit here the contrasts between old and new have been quite noticeable. The first striking example was on the way to Mysore. We drove past what appeared to be a large Hindu cultural and convention center. The building on the street of the complex had space in it rented out to businesses, including a movie theater and – what else? – a McDonald’s.

And speaking of driving, the three hour ride to and then from Mysore allowed me to graduate from beginner to advanced beginner in the Indian school of riding in a car (to actually learn to drive here is reserved for those who qualify for post-graduate studies).

What I observed my first day came into relief with nerve-racking clarity: in India, everyone and everything has a place on the road – not just cars and buses and trucks and, of course, cows, but also pedestrians, dogs, mules, goats, horses both unshackled and drawing carts, ox-drawn carts as well, hand-pushed carts operated by merchants peddling their wares, small three-wheel motorized vehicles for transporting passengers or cargo, and, of course, the ubiquitous motorcycles and motor scooters.

Oh, and for those with sufficient daring to use a motor vehicle, there is one rule of the road which in the mind of every driver must always be borne: spare the brake and indulge the horn!

After our return to Bangalore, the day concluded with Mass at a nearby Salesian parish. I celebrated the English Mass, one of the three languages in which Mass is regularly celebrated in the area, the other two being the local language of Kannada and the language of the neighboring state, Tamil (many Tamils have come to Bangalore in search of work – a sort of scenario quite familiar to us). True to the Salesian charism, the parish is located in one of the many slum areas of Bangalore.

The church was jam crowded. I was greeted on the steps of the church by young girls in elegant dresses showering me with flowers, the traditional way of welcoming a distinguished visitor here. After kneeling to pray for a minute at the entrance to the church, I vested and the entrance procession began.

The experience of the Mass was quite familiar: a youth choir singing contemporary music, and the people actively engaged in the singing and prayers. I did notice a few features a bit unusual to us; for example, while the people in the assembly were wearing their shoes, the altar servers were barefoot, and one of the concelebrants slipped off his sandals when he arrived at his seat in the sanctuary.

And the economic depression of the surrounding neighborhood was nowhere evident: electronic monitors strategically placed displayed the words to the songs, the church was ornately decorated and clean, and many of the people turned out in their Sunday best. The Salesian priests have obviously worked very hard to bring dignity to the poor people of this neighborhood.

It was the simplicity and the devotion of the people, though, that most struck me and will remain seared into my memory. The fervor of their prayer, the reverence with which they received Holy Communion, and their crowding around me after Mass to greet me and ask a blessing was quite moving. As the car pulled away with us waving good-bye to each other, a part of me wanted to stay behind simply to enjoy the experience of being with them.


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