Newsletter of the District of Asia

 April - December 2008

A letter from India

Nov. 30, 2008

My dear Friends,

Unless my eyes are deceived, this year was somewhat of a turning point, as the second priory was opened here in India to take care of an area populated by approximately 1200 million people.

I cannot be thankful enough to all those who prayed and to the superiors who gave the nod, for the great simplification and facilitation that this decision brings to us.

It might give us some kudos with the Carmelites to state that the priory of St Bartholomew was approved on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, just as the first reformed Carmel was opened on the feast of St Bartholomew… and Elias, a villager, is earmarked to become the manager of the orphanage eventually.

The name of St Bartholomew was chosen because there is a strong tradition that maintains that he was sent in what is called the “India Citerior” (Rufinus) or “India Felix” (greek Menology). Eusebius and St Jerome mention both that St Bartholomew was sent to India. The Hieronymian Martyrology reads: “On the 9th Kalends of September the natal day of St Bartholomew the apostle who was beheaded for Christ in Citerior India by king Astriagis.” Anglo-Saxon chronicles of the ninth century mention alms that King Alfred wanted to send to India for the Christians of St Thomas and St Bartholomew. Among others, the Chronicle of Friar Jordanus mentions that many Churches were to be found in Sopara, prior to the destruction wrought by Mubarak Shah after the victory of the Sultan of Delhi Ala-u-din in 1294. (Ophir, Sopara, Bassein and Vasai are different names for the same place.)

So we settled for that name.


In December of last year, the villagers of RN Kandigai, located some two hours south west of Madras, launched an appeal to us, and Fr. picked up the call in earnest this time. In the end this village is the gift of the Dalit Bishop of the nearby town of Chengelpet, as you shall see.

The ordeal of the good Catholics of this village is worth telling, for the Novus Ordo, with all this talk of luv, care and share is throwing quite an ugly picture in these parts.

Now, the local bishop is a dalit, and the villagers are mostly telegus, kind of a nobler Reddy caste birth, which is by the way the same caste as our trusted leftenant, the famed Pothiraj.

As years passed, incidents occurred that gave the bishop a false excuse to decree a permanent interdict on the village twelve years ago. No priest would ever set foot in the church of the village, no funerals, no marriages, no Sunday Masses, no visits of the sick, no catechism, no village feast… no parish life whatsoever, except the local school still run by the diocese, and a convent of 20 Rosarian Sisters having the mass every Sunday in their precinct while the whole village of 2000 starved spiritually at their doorstep (if one can say that you can starve for the Novus Ordo Mass).

In the past we made some timid and unconvincing visits after a first delegation of the village came to Madras to beg from us. Then things got really started when Fr. said his first Mass there on January 15th. It was unscheduled but about 700 people turned up. After a few glitches we started to say regular Sunday Masses around March, while the villagers filed a caveat against the Bishop. Fr. got threatened by two priests, and that got the villagers upset. On May 13th the Novus Ordo table was removed from the sanctuary, on the day of the former feast of the Immaculate Conception whose name graces the church of the village. Between 200 and 450 people - in average 350 - came to Mass every Sunday until the end of the second caveat. There was a two day gap between the second and third caveat, giving an opening for the diocese.

Indeed, shortly before the visit of Bishop Williamson, the Bishop of Chengelpet launched his most serious attack on us, using the local court of Uthuramerur to issue a police injunction against our use of the village church. (Maybe you remember that, in illo tempore the Bishop of Kottar obtained a stay order from no other than the High Court of Madurai, to counter the village of Ramanpudur). His plan was to issue the court order on the eve of the visit of Bishop Williamson; bar us from using the church with many policemen in attendance; and then perform the funeral of one of the villagers in the church to take repossession of the building flanked by 15 priests of the diocese.

But it did not go to plan: for he got the date of our Pontifical Mass wrong by misinterpreting the flyer made by Josephraj. As the 30 policemen were loitering around the village on Saturday, (the wrong date), the villagers smelt that something suspicious was cooking, and immediately rushed to the church, blocking its access to the bishop, saying “ since you block our church, we do not allow you to enter in it!” So the bishop had to say the funeral in a private home, adding insult to his own humiliation, because for twelve years all funerals were forbidden in the village. With this kind of enemies, throwing an entire village into our arms, who needs friends?

Fr. tried to get through the corrupt courts and corrupt and procrastinating lawyers to get the injunction repealed, but to no avail, so the situation became a mixed one: the villagers continued to use the church for their devotions, but we stopped saying the Sunday Mass in it; the Novus Ordo table was razed, and the Novus Ordo clergy barred from the church and highly unpopular in the village. The irony was that the diocese sent a priest to say the Mass in a private home for a crowd of fifteen people, like we do elsewhere.

In September, our driver, Sigairaj, was taken from his car 100 kilometers away from the village and drowned. The car was burned and the floating body was found a few days later. His assassination appeared to be related to the caste issue as his boss was elected president of his village of MN Kandigai about half a kilometer from RN. His wife was the adopted daughter of our main man in RN Kandigai and had a one year old daughter. He was well-known for resolving disputes and was never involed in anything dishonest, so his death was thought to be related to corruption matters so his death was thought to be related to corruption matters. In fact he was simply killed by a band of car robbers that got caught by the police two months later.

Then in October, once the injunction expired, we started to say the Mass in the church again, back with the usual crowd, and that is how it stands for now.

The villagers started building a house for the priests to stay and a small chapel. But that chapel is even smaller than the church of the village which is not big enough on Sunday… and they ran out of funds!

That will be the first time in our 25 years that the Indians are on their own initiative and with their own finances to invest for us. Many of the villagers are beginning to say that they won’t go to the new mass when they visit their relatives. Boys wait for us at 5 a.m. before we arrive, and many men also show up for Mass. They fork out 2000 rupees a week to have us come and some of them get occasionally beaten up because of us, like Paul Raj who lives on the other side of the main street in the Dalit (low caste) section. Only a few Dalits come for Mass so far.

But we also know what is on the other side of the river once a village has been taken over: it still needs to convert. Hardly 20% of the Catholic population in the village comes to Mass on ordinary Sundays.

Overall the place is doing comparatively well, but we do have to increase the catechism and fix the singing. But what center doesn’t face a singing issue in India?

In Madras, things are also progressing; we now have two Mass centers there, one in St Anthony’s school, and the other, guess what, in St Anthony’s chapel!

At the school it is a huge hassle to remove chairs, desks and partitions through seven classrooms to make a proper nave every Sunday and to put the whole thing back for the morning classes. The sacristy is in a perpetual state of disarray. So Joseph Raj has agreed to let us use the fourth floor of his school, and Fr. Pfeiffer is moving in earnest to get the construction started.

At the Chapel, there was some misunderstanding in June. Basically, there were more than a thousand people for the flag raising day; they came there for the big and announced mass, but no priest showed up as two priests were in Madras. That made a pretty angry crowd.

So things are patching up now, and the owners of the chapel are rebuilding it nicely, so that there will be room for growth there.

Bangalore is now tied up with the Madras apostolate and the group is a solid 15, with four students manifesting interest, having listened sermons about the Latin Mass on the internet.


A suburb of Bombay, Vasai, is now the new home of the St Bartholomew’s priory since august 15th ; another gift from a local Bishop, this time Bishop Thomas Dabre of Vasai. How did it happen?

In the nineties, he tried to muscle the manager of the orphanage, Norbert d’Souza, to surrender the whole compound to the diocese. Failing to do so, he then instructed his flock to boycott all donations to the orphanage for long years. These were indeed the dog years for Norbert, who, just to give you one example, had to cut biscuits in two before distributing them to his orphans.

Father Blute came along and found him substantial help. One instance was that Norbert’s roof was leaking. Father found him a $7,000 donation to reroof the entire place. And that established a high level of confidence.

Since then, we have always been happy to find contributors to the cause, so that Norbert eventually came to invite us to stay there. I thought at first it was a pie in the sky, but contra factum non fit argumentum. I was allowed to stay there, with my beloved confrere and whoever answers our call. And it just happened to be the most perfect location for us; very public, very visible, very attractive and yet retired, surrounded by quiet, greenery and History.

The Sunday mass is beginning to look more attractive since it is said in the XVIth c. Holy Name Church (or St Gonsalo Garcia) every Sunday at seven in the morning, by the grace of the Archeological Survey of India. It is not that the Archeological Survey loves us particularly, but we do not cause problems and help to clean and maintain the place. Sometimes they let the cows in and we have to remove buckets of manure; other times the watchman fails to bring the keys so we all stand there with the chairs, candlesticks, vesting table, suitcases, communion rail etc, waiting for the indolent watchman. (Not infrequently some little orphans sneaks around first and opens the door from the inside). So the Mass usually starts late, but the attendance is growing with now at the most seventy communions and sometimes 200 people at Mass. We have still not celebrated any marriage in the North, and there are plenty of imperfections in our work here.

August 15th was a day to remember: I got sick, my phone got cut and I got robbed of a nice stash of cash from my bag. We quickly found out that a boy was missing. The robber was a recently baptized ten-year-old.

Later I got robbed a second time in my office, this time of less money, but the robbery was more professional, because we did not find the robber and he left most of the cash behind for the theft not to be noticed. All searches were in vain. Something rotten is going on in the state of Denmark. So we went to Chor Market (Chor means thief in Hindi!) to buy a safe. The other funny thing is that our first little robber on the day of his deed bought himself a locker to be on the safe side…against other thieves.

The priory is located in the orphanage and we are fixing the place little by little. We have three “Bhais” (boys) working for us – Anthony, Jeby and Elias. Swaruppa also came from Palayamkottai; she is the first female staff we got, but some are coming down the pipe through the ministrations of Fr. Pfeiffer. Then Rebecca from Denver came in November, the first traditional westerner to come and help. She got acclimatized instantly, and can’t stop enjoying her interaction with the little orphans.

The school here is significantly under par, (if you are thinking of golf: it’s 400 over par). Some teachers help the children to cheat and pass the tests, and as Father Pfeiffer said, the teachers helped the students cheat, but one of the teachers was caught by a student!... and sacked.

Except for the thieves and some older orphans, the children are not spoiled and are reasonably well-disciplined.

In Bombay proper, the situation remains static, for lack of a proper public place to celebrate the Mass, so that the traditional group remains very small, but that does not prevent a lot of gossiping around as the sedevacantists added some spice this year. In the second half of 2008, we started to get some of them back into the fold. The Mass attendance is numerically exactly the same as six years ago; very disappointing.

Nevertheless, despite us being stopped in our tracks, the Novus Ordo treats us quite seriously, and have started a Motu Proprio Mass in the Church of St Peter very near the hall where we give mass every Sunday. Father Juan, a Jesuit and old companion of Father Shilananda, is celebrating the Mass for the Motu crowd. We went to see him and he told us that he is doing this out of obedience and is firmly against the traditional Mass. He is very old, like Father Emilio. There does not seem to be a lot of priests able to say the traditional Mass in Bombay. Despite our warnings some people go to that Mass, but not many, our group in Bombay being so insignificant. I am not sure if the Motu Proprio Mass will bring eventually more people to the Society as in some other places of the world. So far, a couple of young families have come. Veremos.


Then we have a myriad of skirmishing nascent little groups that we can see when the moon is blue. Some groups appear, others disappear from the radar, like the few who called us in Surat. Delhi is on the brink, but not dead yet. Dubai has an unknown status for the moment, but we know we have thirty people there. We always hear about some people interested in Mangalore or in Daman, but we have never been there. Not much is being done for the moment to visit the groups in North Tamil Nadu (Vriddhachallam, Coimbatore, Ooty and Kodaikannal). Some places north of Madras send messages once in a while, and there are rumors about Pondicherry. Bangalore has gone up a little bit, and Father Couture has requested us to cater for Cuddapah without over pacing ourselves. We have not yet returned to Varanasi.

Two lone priests for the whole North, what insignificance…


This summer a severe persecution broke out in the central state of Orissa, a very Hindu state run by one of the parties of the Sangh Parivar, the Hindu nationalist political block of India, which wants to further establish the social kingship of Hinduism over the country. (The Constitution says otherwise, but Hinduism is the de facto religion of State in India). The main branch of the Sangh Parivar is the RSS and their leaders are mostly Brahmins, but they are also a divided lot and most of the Hindus do not like their sectarian and violent ways.

Now in Orissa, many conversions are taking place, but not from Hinduism proper, but from the tribal areas where the local religion is more like African animism and very vague and disorganized. The people’s hearts are moved by the many charities run by the missionaries, for in these places, you will generally not find a hospital, a school or an orphanage that is not run by missionaries.

To preempt the conversion of the big Pana minority (20%) the Hindus are also sending staff both to convert tribals to Hinduism and to reconvert Christians back into Hinduism, mostly through intimidation. But it didn’t seem to work very well and the Hindus do not run extensive charitable organizations. So there was a need to up the ante, and the occasion came with the murder of Swami Lakshmananda by the Naxal Maoist rebels.

The aim of the Maoists is to profit from the plight of the Christians to swell their already growing ranks, and that region of Kandhamal is all the more interesting to us because Kandhamal is the missing link in the red corridor they are actually controlling. This is a very large communist insurrection, going on in the central mountainous highlands of India; it feeds on the misery of the tribal population and the resentment against the corruption of the system. The police made it very clear that the Naxal did it, and the Naxals claimed the deed as well. We see even now that the communists are the ones profiting from all this unrest.

All of this was not proof for the Sangh Parivar who immediately staged protests and blocked the roads to prevent access from observers and police forces. Then the organized mobs went from village to village, torching houses and desecrating churches, spilling the Blessed Sacrament onto the floor in many instances. For the thousands of houses that got burned, only thirty or forty Christians were reportedly killed. Officially, three priests got beaten up, one dying from his wounds and a nun was raped before being paraded naked in the streets. In the case of Fr Sequeira, one of his Hindu orphan girls was mistaken to be a Christian, tied and burned alive.

As the whole place was ablaze the Sangh Parivar chief minister lamented the violence but blamed it on the victims by saying that the anti-conversion laws are not properly enforced in the state. The police stood as a mute spectator to all these incidents for several weeks. Lastly, riots broke out in other states of Kerala and Karnataka, mostly affecting churches but killing nobody I think.

The Christians then fled into the jungle, or to camps set up to shelter them. The conditions there are still very bad to this day and many babies die at birth. People are afraid.

The reaction of the novus ordo bishops is religious liberty, religious liberty and religious liberty, but that is not going to change anything because the Hindus are all out to deny it. There is no debate about it, no convincing to be made in time of persecution, because the persecutor is in a position of strength and is intent to use it. Instead what should be said is that these bad Hindus are showing their true colors and the falsity of their beliefs to the whole world, and are helping the Church to earn more Christians. The shame is that there was a debate on TV with Protestant and Catholic representatives. The Protestant said “Of course we make conversions, but none of them are forced.” While the Catholic said “What are you talking about? We haven’t been converting anybody and it is ridiculous to accuse us of converting anybody.”  

Sister Nirmala, the head of the Mother Theresa Sisters, came to visit, and she said that the situation has improved but still was bad. The local bishops were more explicit. What the Orissa BJP government did was to round up a few local Hindus without touching any of the cadres of the Shang Parivar. So these have moved to other villages to stir trouble as the paramilitary forces sent by the central government cannot be everywhere. Their goal is also to ensure that the Christians in camps who wish to return to their homes may not be able to do so unless they forcibly reconvert to Hinduism. The state government openly refuses to fund the reconstruction of any Christian home on the excuse of secularism. But some media attention forced it to reconsider its verbal stance.

The most obdurate BJP Chief Minister is arguably the one in Karnataka. Not only did he deny any church attacks when these happened, including in Bangalore, his own capital; Mister Wolf blamed it again on the sheep by saying that conversions are the causes of all those disorders. His plan is to have a law forbidding all conversions, not just the so called “forced” ones. When cornered by questions about the actual burning of churches, he answers that he has ordered a probe on this subject. It is well known here that this expression equals saying: “I just care less about what you just said, and you have my specific guarantee that absolutely nothing shall be done to resolve this issue.” In the meantime, the police and the administration are unleashed on whatever place of worship remains and injunctions are being made questioning their right to exist or function. This legal thrust is a good complement of the non-governmental agitation run by the Shang Parivar outfits and maintains a lid of fear over the heads of the Christians, even though only a very small number of them are harmed physically.

Far from appeasing the Hindu resentment, the inculturation process that was launched a long time ago has in no way tamed the enemies of Christianity but, so it seems, given them more confidence. Will the new Rome and the Bishops it nominates in India ever learn?

In Iesu et Maria,
François Chazal


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