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
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
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
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
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.
CRUMBS OF FAITH
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,
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
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
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
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
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,