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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

Chennai (Madras) – Time with an apostle

Day 4: Monday, Jan. 2

Today we flew to Chennai (Madras), the principal city in the state of Tamil Nadu in the southeastern corner of the country and a significant site of the missionary activity of St. Thomas the Apostle, as attested to from ancient tradition.

Our first stop was the spot of his martyrdom. I spent good amount of time in prayer in the Eucharistic Adoration chapel. It gets a lot of business, and is frequented by Hindus as well as Catholics.

Once again, the devotion of the people was quite evident in their prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. We also celebrated Mass in the Cathedral of the Archdiocese, which is built over the spot of St. Thomas’ ancient burial place. It boasts of being only one of three Basilicas built over the known tomb of one of the 12 apostles, St. Peter’s in the Vatican and Santiago de Compostela in Spain being the other two. (More recent excavations beneath the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome have unearthed evidence that it stands over the tomb of the Apostle to the Gentiles.)

In between these two stops we visited another Hindu temple; this time, I wanted to see something a little more typical, without so much of the Western, commercial influence of the first temple we saw.

The gatekeeper, who told us where to go to check in our shoes, decided to be our personal tour guide – he said he would tell us things that aren’t in the tour book. Since I didn’t check a tour book, I can’t say for sure if he was right, but it seemed to me that he was.

He explained to us the practice of painting the forehead: the white ash represents that we will return to dust. He said something about it being made from cow dung, which is burned and then blended in with the mixture. He brought us to the threshold of the temple, where there was a large plate of the white ash; the next thing I knew, he rubbed some of it across my forehead, wishing me a long life. Well, I thought, his wish for me was a gesture of good will, and this entire idea certainly has very close resonances with Ash Wednesday.

So we continued on the tour, where I gained more knowledge of Hindu mythology and the lessons of life it can teach us. We also had another step to go with the forehead-painting scenario: beneath the horizontal line of white ash, between and slightly above the eyebrows, is placed a red dot made called the bindi to represent the “third eye.”

The concept of the eye has a prominent place in Hindu thinking, and explains the use of heavy and elaborate makeup around the eyes of the dancers I had seen perform. The idea is that the eye represents God who sees everything, and our quest for spiritual enlightenment. For us, that translates into seeing with the eyes of faith, certainly a most appropriate prayer in this land of St. Thomas!

Another facet of the trip worth mentioning here, as with just about any foreign travel, is the cuisine. For our lunch we were treated to thali, samples of different dishes from Southern India. The vast array of spices was amazing, as was the meticulous elaboration involved in preparing them to mix in with the recipe.

As just one example, I had a chicken dish with a sauce prepared initially with cardamom, cinnamon sticks and cloves, to which later is added coriander ground up to not quite a powder, fennel and various types of peppers.

I learned that Kerala is the largest spice-exporting region in the world. Given that, along with what I tasted, it’s no wonder the Portuguese invested large sums of money, time and energy to explore this part of the world in search of spices.


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