Cordileone’s pilgrimage to India
Family visits in ‘Catholic’ India
Day 3: Sunday, Jan. 1
The New Year was ushered in with a flight from Bangalore
to Cochin, economic center of the state of Kerala, on the southwestern
tip of the Indian subcontinent and known as the “Catholic”
area of the country.
Approximately 19 percent of the population is Christian, with the great
majority being Syro-Malabar Catholic, an Eastern Rite of the Catholic
Church of the East Syrian liturgical family, which relates it to the Chaldean
Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, both originating in Iraq.
The connections between the Christians in this part of India and the Church
in Mesopotamia run very deep in history and were quite strong. Smaller
groups of Christians include those of the Syro-Malankara Rite (of the
West Syrian tradition) and variously related Eastern Orthodox Churches,
as well as some Latin Rite Catholics and a small number of Protestants.
Despite the percentages, the culture of Kerala is very strongly Catholic.
The churches are full at all Masses, with vibrant participation of the
faithful. The devotional life among the people thrives, as witnessed by
numerous processions both penitential and festive, the veneration of saints,
many of whom have come from the local area and parish festivals to celebrate
patronal feasts occupying a central place in town life and being marked
by a maximum of ornamentation and solemnity.
Our first stop on arriving in Cochin was a visit and lunch at the Provincial
House of the sisters of the Congregation of Mount Carmel. The province
has one convent of three sisters in the United States, located right in
our own diocese, in Hercules, to be exact.
The hospitality was extremely gracious, and in addition to a delicious
meal of local cuisine, the younger sisters and aspirants performed dances
characteristic of the region, such as one telling the story of the miracle
at the Wedding Feast of Cana. And of younger sisters there were plenty!
All throughout Kerala, in fact, youthful religious and priestly vocations
abound, which is always a sign of a healthy and vibrant Church.
True, the downturn in vocations is now beginning to make itself felt here,
too, but the high regard with which the people hold the ordained and professed,
and the encouragement given to vocations in families, is still quite strong.
From the sisters we moved onto the home parish of my guide, Father George
Alengandan, SDB, where his family was holding their annual reunion. His
very large extended family – extended also in the sense of now living
in different places throughout the world – comes together every
year at the place of their origin in order to pass on values and traditions.
Once again I was greeted by children and young people showering me with
flowers – the older children especially seemed to enjoy pelting
me with this sign of respect. The festivities included more dances of
The dances always tell some sort of story, either from a religious tradition
or from one of the great themes of the human experience, such as love
and marriage or death and war. The dance of the culture here is characterized
by elaborate makeup and costumes, and frequent use of facial expressions.
The dancers had an effective way of drawing the audience into the story.
The festivities also including honor the most elder man and most elder
woman present by wrapping them in the traditional mantle of respect for
elders. I had the honor of doing that.
We made one last stop at the Alengadan family home, where a meeting of
the residents of the neighborhood was taking place. They were mostly Catholics
and Hindus, with a few Muslims, but they all come together to address
mutual concerns affecting their immediate neighborhood and the wider society.
In keeping with custom, they all asked my blessing before we departed.