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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

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 region.

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.


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