Newsletter of the District of Asia

 January - February 2000

Tales of the Indian Mission

A Letter from Fr. Blute

Dear Friends:

I hope with all my heart that each and every one of you enjoyed a happy, holy, grace-filled Christmas. Although I was travelling much during that week (first from Bombay to Goa, and afterwards to Bangalore and Trichy) I could not help but be touched by the emotionally moving considerations of the miracle of Christmas-especially the unfathomable worthiness of the Holy Virgin, the mystery of God's generosity in taking our human nature, and the perfect love of Mary doting on her only child. (Quick quiz: If the model Catholic family has many children, why did Mary only have one? Answer: because her child was perfect, whereas our children only reflect some small individual perfections. Believe it or not, it's in the Summa - III, Q28, a3, corp.) My greatest satisfaction, humanly speaking, is that the complicated movement of priests during this season was carried off without incident. We were able to present all the ceremonies, and all the feast-days in all our usual Mass Centers. With 3 priests; covering an area 2/3rds the size of the USA, and considering the primitive, flawed transport systems, it is something to be proud of (or 'at least, thankful for).

The hero of this letter is Fr. Edwin. During the past three weeks, he has survived a crushing burden of apostolic activities... but after the event, tired but happy, he describes it all to us with pleasure.

The highlight of his Christmas, every year, is the village festival in Christarajapuram. Christarajapuram is a totally Catholic village of about 75 families, all of which are solidly attached to the Society of St. Pius X, and the Latin Mass. The story of how they came under our pastoral care is quite a tale: but I'll pass over it for now. Suffice to say that they "seceded" from their parish church, chose the name "Christ the King Town", and built a thatched shed for Mass. We have carried on that way ever since.

Every year, there is the annual festival in Christarajapuram. Christmas time is a good time for social functions because the weather is cool (and in that lovely, green, coconut and banana grove hill country, especially nice), the harvest is over, and school is "out" until January. Just like Singamparai, the festival begins and ends with the raising and lowering of the flag, duly blessed and applauded to the top of the flagpole. But in CRP (so I abbreviate), they arrange daily activities for the education, sanctification; and entertainment of all the village.

First of all, the Christmas season is a season of song: for 41 days before Christmas, the children and young adults go every night to a different locale, arid sing carols, and collect donations. Throughout the area, they are welcomed, and Hindus as well as Christians listen with pleasure to the songs. The donations are carefully hoarded, and recorded, to pay for the festival activities. On the morning before Christmas, all the men of the village decorate a carriage for the statue of Christ the King, and carry it with songs, and prayers, throughout the countryside. It's a sight to see, or you might say a sight for sore eyes: when ten country men decorate a carriage, with no plan, and complete freedom,and a full palette of colored and reflective papers, the result is like an earthquake in a paint factory. Anyway, with pride and determination, they carry and pray, and sing, and walk , From 7:30 in the morning, until 8:00 at night, they continue unabated, and when they arrive back at the chapel, they collapse with fatigue, satisfied that they have done honor to Christ the King.

Fr. Edwin Alphonse stands next to Fr. Couture on the occasion of his first visit to India in 1996.



But poor Fr. Edwin! Every year he has to rouse up the footsore, hoarse, sleepy altar boys for Midnight Mass! The turnout for that Mass is not very good. But in the morning, they all come, and the solemnity of Christmas is celebrated with joy, at the coming of Christ our Lord. And the festival continues for another week!

Every day of the festival, from Christmas to January 2nd, is filled with activities. Father Edwin goes house to house, blessing their domiciles, their goats, their vehicles, and their children. In the evening, every evening, things begin in the chapel: 2 hours at least of prayers, with a sung Mass, sermon, and Benediction. Afterwards, all gather for the presentation: let me just list the various cultural programs as they call it, which were done this year:

1. Every night, a different professor from college, addresses the people. These are truly learned Tamil scholars, who weave prose, poetry, song, and humor into their talks.

2. There was a drama, performed by the children, depicting the martyrdom of St.

3. an acting troupe game from the neighboring state of Kerala, and performed a professional-quality 3-act play, complete with sets and costumes, of the life of St. Alex, the martyr.

4. The villagers, divided into groups by age, engage in a debating contest, for prizes, on a subject chosen by Fr. Edwin.

5. One night, there was a fancy-dress competition. People young and old dress up like a Saint, a Freedom Fighter, a famous historical figure, etc, and do a short, convincing performance to win the prize. This year the prize went to the Devil!! One man, painted black as tar, with horns, claws, and branches on his back, gave a stunning rendition of the Devil: he appeared on stage, brandishing a fiery torch... He glares at the audience, and with a blazing WHOOSH breathes out a plume of fire (he had kerosene in his mouth, a trick learned from Gene Simmons, you can bet). Twice he breathes fire (careful not to inhale!), and then mouths off evil things, so that the audience is convinced that they don't want to end up in Hell!!

On the last day of the feast, there is a procession of the statue of Christ the King through the village, followed by a Mass and Benediction. The entire village comes, even those who never come to Church. They have lots of ornaments, and banners, and such, as a festive occasion demands. The adults are admiring the statue; and the palanquin... the children are watching Fr. Edwin, walking in front of the palanquin, hands folded, composed, eyes down. You see, the principal employment of the villagers is in the local rock quarry, blasting and breaking rocks into gravel. They are all perfectly accustomed to hear the blast and roar of dynamite, but they know from past experience that Fr. Edwin, who comes from Madras, is not so used to it. For excitement, the men bring along portions of dynamite to set off in honor of Christ the King. The children watch Fr. Edwin, waiting to see him jump out of his skin when the first blast is detonated. He says that the explosion is so loud, and gives him such a shock that he simply cannot control himself. The children giggle behind their hands, and say "wait for the next one!" "Here it comes...!" Bang!! Up goes Fr. Edwin, giggley-giggle go the children, and any adult nearby cuffs them into respectful silence.

The various cultural activities mentioned below are well -attended. The village has no television, none at all, so the idea of entertaining yourself has not faded away. Did I ever tell you about the first and last television in Christarajapuram? Well, in our village, as throughout India, many of the men go abroad for better wages and employment opportunities. Whenever they can, they bring back their treasure, and settle in their former village, or build a house for their mother, or, rarely, contribute to the Church. In this case, the son of one mason went to Kerala, earned enough wages to buy his dad a second hand TV. Fr. Edwin had been preaching against TV since he was ordained, and when he heard of the arrival of the dread device, he went and expostulated with them all the terrible immoral and antifamily things that it brought into the home. The children will be spoiled, your wife will watch soaps all day, and so on. Finally, they agreed to get rid of it. Weeks went by, the habit grew stronger, and every time Fr. Edwin arrived, he saw most of the men and boys rooted to the ground watching sports through their neighbor's open window. Numerous times Father urged them, and they agreed: it's no good for them, they will certainly get rid of it: after the World Cup. Well, to make a long story short, just after one of these encounters, the men went back to their TV, to watch the daily cricket match., and when they switched on the TV, sparks, smoke, and the hissing of burning wires followed, with the screen flickering white and black in its death agony. NOW, everyone in the village had their say: "You should have LISTENED to what the FATHER said! See what HAPPENS when you don't do what the FATHER SAYS! "..."SHAME-see the hand of God?" all with abundant laughter and good humor. (I don't want you to think my people are heartless or superstitious, but villages are like big families, and they make game of each other without restraint. It was one of those blessed occasions when God's Providence backs you up, unexpectedly.

Although I have gone on long enough, there is a subject I am developing to try to explain the allure of life in India allure which is not apparent at first, and certainly not apparent to any tourist who has to survive the public toilets, open sewers, urine-reek of the bus stations, and the universal trash, cows and pigs in the streets. But it gradually dawned on me, after 8 months or more, that the manner of life in India has a quality which is missing in our Western world. I search for a word to describe it, but I find it not. I say that it has a "human-ness" which is lacking elsewhere, except perhaps Montana. Everyone relies on others for their survival-that is to say, the jobs which we "do ourselves", or which are done by machines, are done by others, for us. I am thinking of the boy who delivers milk fresh from his mother's cow, every day at 3 pm. (Their 3 cows live in the adjacent house.) We leave a jug outside the kitchen, and he comes, pours it out, with proper ceremony, and goes. Twice a week, the little girl of the fish-man brings fish, which we eat on a regular basis (and such fish I never ate! very good, better than anything in the US...). If you saw where her father works... he sits at an intersection, on a small mound of soil, outlined with stones, with the fish laid out on a tarp, tempting passers-by as well as flies from across the street. Benjamin goes by bus to the port city of Tuticorin every day at 3 am, and carried his fish back on the public bus, for sale by sunrise. And we are grateful for his service. The street-hawkers sell their goods until about 11 pm, crying out their slogan in the avenues. Over time, their cries lose their original meaning, and become a sort of song. You don't know what she is saying, but you know from experience that that sound means curd for sale, flowers for sale, fish, mats, or umbrella repair. It is always entertaining to listen to Fr. Edwin imitate the various cries, at the dinner table, explaining also what they are selling. (Some day, I will record the sellers, and put it on a sound-file for you to all listen to!! Wouldn't that be a wonderful use of the Internet?) But my point is this; all these people come to know you, to know your preferences, to know your cook, your driver, your new priest, as well as your usual visitors. They don't become buddies with you, but the mere fact that you depend on them, and they on you, gives to life a different color, a more human color. G.K. Chesterton once wrote an essay about the Middle Ages, in which he described the squalor of a medieval town, and contrasted it with the splendor of the religious events and pageantry of the royalty. He was not criticizing squalor, at all. He was promoting it!! In his own inimitable way, he succeeds in . convincing you that a certain amount of stink is consonant with human life, and that in our stainless steel disinfected Formica automatic-garage-dooropener world, we are in effect distanced from reality, and thus from the easy perception of God's hand in creation. Don't mind if I return to these themes repeatedly, because they "frame" the subject of India rather well. And I am still working out the details.

Fr. Thomas Blute

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