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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

Ubiquitous respect for each others’ religious beliefs

Day 6: Wednesday, Jan. 4

Today I actually had a chance to catch my breath. After a Holy Hour and Mass at a nearby convent and breakfast (again, more of a brunch) back at the family’s home, I was able to spend some time in rest and reflection.

Hospitality is a highly esteemed virtue in just about every culture, and India being a more traditional society, its expression of hospitality is in a more traditional way, that is, bending over backwards to serve the guest in every detail (e.g., no self-service for guests – the hosts serve the portions from the serving plate onto the guest’s plate, even to the point of putting the sugar in the guest’s coffee and stirring it), especially through abundance of food.

As we were nearing the end of another marathon meal, we made a remark that, given the quantity and late hour of the breakfast, this would also serve as our lunch. The mother of the family just looked back at us smiling quietly; however, her eyes spoke volumes, and I could hear what they were telling us: “You’re not going to get away with that.” And so it was.

In the afternoon we drove to Chalakudy, the home town of Father Paulson Mundanmani, pastor of St. Mary parish in Walnut Creek, arriving in time for a cultural show put on by the children of a school founded, built and developed by Father Paulson’s brother, Father Santhosh, who is also the principal of the school.

The students of this K-12 school were impressive, exhibiting great self-confidence on stage and displaying abundant talent in song, dance and memorized recitation. Courteous, bright and spiritually-focused, these students are a sign of hope for the future. And there is more to it than that: this is obviously a school for well-to-do families, but they are mission-focused and mindful of their obligations to the poor.

The teachers voluntarily take below-scale salaries to keep costs down. Also, the families of the school have recently raised money to build 10 houses for the poor people in the area, and every year they donate money to help 500 poor school children purchase their textbooks for the year (in India, while public education itself is free, the textbooks are not).

I should add that, before we set out for Chalakudy, I blessed the workshop of our host family’s business. When I arrived, all of the workmen – about 10 or 12 of them – stopped their working and gathered around for the prayer. They lit candles and incense sticks, and followed me throughout the shop as I sprinkled holy water all around. They again gathered together for the prayer at the conclusion of the blessing.

I couldn’t help but be touched by them – they were shy, and extremely reverent, even though many of them, I’m sure, were not Catholic. One of them asked to be allowed to kiss my ring before we departed.

This was yet another of the many examples I saw of the innate religious sense of the people here. Certainly the respect everyone shows to each other’s religious traditions and the place of religion in public life are clear manifestations of this. Perhaps the most striking example, though, is a pilgrimage the devout make walking for days, and even weeks, barefoot, a practice common to both Catholics and Hindus.

The Hindu destination is a temple held to be particularly sacred. Catholics make the pilgrimage to Malayatur (where we visited earlier in the trip), where there is a stone claimed to contain the imprint of St. Thomas’ foot. For Catholics, this harsh pilgrimage is taken up in a spirit of penance, as a way to make reparation for one’s sins. I saw these pilgrims walking on the streets, carrying their few provisions on their heads, everywhere we went.

Whenever I visit any place where the faithful knew or recognized me as a bishop, I could hardly take two steps before someone or some couple would ask to kiss my ring or kneel down and ask for a blessing. All of these experiences bring to my mind a passage in one of the letters of St. Francis Xavier which is read every year on his feast day in the Liturgy of the Hours (the second reading for the Office of Readings).

Writing about his experiences in India to St. Ignatius back in Europe, he says: “The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: ‘The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” It seems to me that this spirit of the people here is still alive and well nearly 500 years later.


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