New saints - ‘kindly lights’ in the gloom of the world

Pope Francis raised five new saints of the Catholic Church to the glory of the altar during a solemn Eucharistic celebration in Rome's St Peter's Square on Sunday, October 13. Among them is an Indian - Sr Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan - the foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family (CHF).

In a sun-drenched St Peter's Square, and before thousands of pilgrims coming from all over the world, Pope Francis proclaimed five new saints for the Church. Presiding over the canonisations of Cardinal John Henry Newman, Sr Mariam Thresia, Sr Giuseppina Vannini, Sr Dulce Lopes Pontes, and Marguerite Bays, the Pope reflected in his homily on Saint Luke's Gospel account of Jesus healing the lepers, and highlighted three verbs - "to cry out, to walk, to give thanks". He said theirs was a "journey of faith"; there are three steps in this journey, he added, all expressed in the actions of the lepers whom Jesus heals: "They cry out, they walk and they give thanks."

To cry out

The lepers "cry out", said Pope Francis, both because of their disease and because they were excluded. Still, "they did not let themselves be paralysed because they were shunned by society," he said. "They cried out to God, who excludes no one." Distances are shortened, loneliness is overcome, said the Pope, not by closing in on ourselves, but by crying out to the Lord, who "hears the cry of those who find themselves alone."

We too need to be healed, continued Pope Francis, "healed of our lack of confidence in ourselves, in life, in the future; healed of our fears and the vices that enslave us, of our introversion, our addictions and our attachment to games, money, television, mobile phones, to what other people think."

"The Lord sets our hearts free and heals them if only we ask Him," said Pope Francis. The lepers call on Jesus by name, a name that means: "God saves". To call someone by name is a sign of confidence, he said. "That is how faith grows, through confident, trusting prayer. Prayer is the door of faith; prayer is medicine for the heart."

To walk

The second stage of faith is "to walk", continued Pope Francis. There are several verbs of motion in today's Gospel, he noted. "The lepers are not healed as they stand before Jesus", only afterwards as they are walking "uphill" towards Jerusalem. On the journey of life, that is how purification happens, said the Pope. "Faith calls for journey, a 'going out' from ourselves," he said, leaving behind our "comforting certainties" and "safe harbours". Faith increases by giving and by taking risks, added Pope Francis. "Faith advances with humble and practical steps."

The Pope went on to stress how the lepers "move together". The verbs in the Gospel are in the plural, he said. "Faith means walking together, never alone," he added. Yet, once healed, nine of the lepers go on their way, and only one turns back to give thanks. "The other nine, where are they?" asks Jesus, as though He expects the one who returned to account for the other nine. We too are called to care for "those who have stopped walking, those who have lost their way," said the Pope. "We are called to be guardians of our distant brothers and sisters."

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Mariam Thresia – India’s newest saint


Sr Udaya, the Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Family, throws light on the spiritual preparation undertaken for the canonisation of their foundress, Sr Mariam Thresia.

A religious and mystic, Sr Mariam Theresia was born in Puthenchira, in southern India's Kerala state, on April 26, 1876. Belonging to a once rich and noble family with extensive landed property, the future pioneer of the Family Apostolate grew up in piety and holiness under the loving guidance of her saintly mother, Thanda. In her intense love for God, the 8-year-old girl gave herself up to austere penance, fasting and prayer. She wanted to be conformed ever more to the likeness of the suffering Christ, to whom she also consecrated her virginity at an early age.

In imitation of Jesus, she helped the poor, nursed the sick, visited and comforted the lonely people of her parish.

She was also blessed with the stigmata, but kept it secret to avoid attention. She received several mystical gifts like prophecy, healing, an aura of light, sweet odour, and frequently had ecstasies and levitations. Her entire existence was tormented by demons, and she offered her sufferings for the remission of the sins of the world.

Thresia, and three companions who joined her, led a life of prayer and austere penance and continued to help families, visiting the sick, the poor and the needy, irrespective of religion or caste. This ministry led her to establish the new Congregation of the Holy Family on May 14, 1914.

Sr Thresia died on June 8, 1926, at the age of 50, and was declared Blessed by Pope Saint John Paul II on April 9, 2000.

Pope Francis on February 12 authorised a decree recognising a miracle through her intercession, which cleared her for sainthood, and on July 1, the Pope decided on October 13 as the canonisation day.

Since then, the sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Family have been preparing intensely for this great day, concentrating more on spiritual preparation and works of charity for the family than external preparation, said Sr Udaya, the Superior General of the Congregation.

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Priest Centenarian Passes Away - a Living testimony of the Beatitudes


Homily at the Funeral Mass of Monsignor William Nazareth on October 12, 2019

My dear friends, we have selected a passage of the gospel of Mathew from the Sermon on the Mount for the funeral Mass of Msgr Wiliam Nazareth because it most appropriately captures and sums up the life and death of Bombay Archdiocese first centenarian priest who had achieved this milestone just a week ago. I was wondering - how does one preach a sermon about a sermon? And I thought the best way to this was to highlight salient episodic features of his life that would reveal that in his life and death was a living testimony of the beatitudes. And this is precisely what Msgr. William Edwin Hypolito Nazareth, fondly known as Msgr. Willie strove to do - to live out the beatitudes in his life.

As I was reflecting on the life of Msgr. Willie, I realized that Pope Francis and he, had many qualities which were common: Like Pope Francis, Msgr. Wille had a heart for the poor and for those in distress and he reached out to the poor in a big way, while he himself lived a very simple and God-centered life. The poor, in the gospel, represent those who are totally dependent on God and not on worldly things. Msgr. Willie was neither attached to money nor to the things of the world, as could be seen by the fact that many people came to him for financial help and he reached out to every person that came to him.

Just as Pope Francis, who, not being able to bear the agony that couples of broken marriages went through due to long delays in the ecclesiastical tribunals in obtaining decisions concerning their state of life, reformed the Marriage procedural law so as to quicken the process, Msgr. Willie too did not like to keep people who came to the Curia waiting for long. Hence, even when it was not his duty day, if he saw many people sitting outside the Curia office, he would take them to his office and attend to them.

Msgr. Willie was a real model to all of us. He was a man of discipline in his prayer-life as well as his physical life. He was very faithful to his prayer-life. He was very regular in praying the breviary and the rosary at fixed times. He came to office on time, had his meals on time, closed his office at 5 pm sharp, would go for his walks, at a particular time, He was so punctual in his regular habits that one could adjust one’s watch according to Monsignour’s daily routine.

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Political and religious leaders mourn Archbishop Jala’s death in the United States

Condolences and expressions of solidarity and deep gratitude were expressed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who led poli tical and religious leaders to mourn the death of 68-year-old Archbishop Dominic Jala of Shillong in a car accident in California (USA) on 10 October. Meanwhile, the Catholic community in the state of Meghalaya (Northeastern India), where he was born and where he carried out his episcopal ministry, is immersed in prayer. The Salesian Archbishop "will be remembered for his impeccable service to society and passion towards Meghalaya’s progress. May his soul rest in peace", tweeted the Indian Prime Minister on 12 October, soon after the news of the Catholic prelate.

The accident reportedly occurred around 11 pm October 10 (10:30 am on October 11 India time) when Archbishop Jala was traveling to Clearlake in California along with Fathers Mathew Vellankal and Joseph Parekkatt, two Indian priests working in the United States. Father Vellankal, who was driving, and Archbishop Jala who was on the front seat died on the spot while Parekkatt suffered serious wounds and admitted to a hospital. The Archbishop, after having taken part in the "Ad limina visit" of the bishops of northeastern India, in the Vatican, had gone to the United States to attend an International Commission meeting for the liturgy and to meet some priest friends.

The Archbishop was the first prelate from the Khasi tribe, one of prominent ethnic groups. The news about the archbishop’s death has created shock and sadness. The people particularly the Catholic faithful across Meghalaya and the region recall the life and contribution of Archbishop Jala to society. Expressing shock and grief, the priests and religious of Shillong Archdiocese said: "It is really a sad news for all of us to learn that our beloved Archbishop passed away, far away from his homeland, far away from us. We are awaiting return of his mortal remains and after that we can arrange for the date and time of the funeral. As of now, we urge everyone to pray for us, to pray for our archdiocese and especially to pray for the soul of archbishop".

Numerous political leaders in Meghalaya, such as the Prime Minister of the state, Conrad Sangma, have sent messages of condolences and solidarity. Mgr. John Moolachira, Archbishop of Guwahati and the president of the Council of Catholic Bishops of Northeast India, wrote: "We entrust his soul into the hands of his creator. We the Catholic Bishops of North East India are grieved at his departure but at the moment of pain we turn to the priests, religious and faithful of the Archdiocese of Shillong who mourn their beloved Archbishop: we pray for the eternal repose of the departed soul and for the archdiocese of Shillong" (SD)

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When God hit the ‘Send’ Button


The first text message ever sent was in 1992 by software engineer, Neil Papworth. The message simply read: "Merry Christmas." Today over 8.9 trillion text messages are sent each year. This translates into 8.9 trillion taps of the SEND button on mobile devices, a behaviour that has become an almost unconscious, daily habit of much of the human race. In one of his post-Resurrection appearances to His disciples, Jesus had something to say about "sending," reiterating what He had said in His prayer in John 17: "Just as you sent me into the world, I also sent them into the world." Theologian David Bosch wrote that "Mission is not primarily an activity of the Church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God."

God is a "sending" God. The word "mission" literally means "a sending." Throughout biblical history, sending is a common theme as seen in the lives of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Jonah, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, John the Baptist, culminating in God sending Jesus. Jesus' sending was unique and pre-eminent among all the other "sendings" in the Bible, yet is also a model for His followers: "As the Father has sent me, even so, I am sending you. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Mt 28:19) "GO." The manner of Jesus' "sending" is to characterise his followers' sending.

Christian mission is "an organised effort for the propagation of the Christian faith." Mission often involves sending individuals and groups, called "missionaries", to foreign countries and to places in their homeland for the purpose of proselytism (conversion to Christianity, or from one Christian tradition to another). This involves evangelism (preaching a set of beliefs for the purpose of conversion), and humanitarian work, especially among the poor and disadvantaged. Missionaries have the burden to preach the Christian faith (and sometimes to administer Sacraments), and provide humanitarian work to improve economic development, literacy, education, healthcare, and orphanages. Christian doctrines (such as the "Doctrine of Love" professed by many missions) permit the provision of aid without requiring religious conversion.

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They built their tent among Adivasis


The Second Vatican Council which was held in 1962, and concluded in 1965, passed 16 Documents. Inculturation and option for the poor were some of the highlights of the Council. Inspired by the above salient features, the Congregation of the Sacred Heart held its Chapters in 1964 and 1967, and decided to renew its life. Sisters set aside their monastic habits, and began to wear an Indian sari. A simple lifestyle was accepted by them; some Sisters decided to live in an Ashram (e.g. Vandana Mataji). Some opted to build their huts among the aboriginals. They went beyond their formal institutional lifestyle to non-formal activities.

During that period, Fr Stany Miranda, SJ from Bandra had arrived in the Talasari Mission, after passing his B.Sc. in Agriculture in the USA. For some time, he had been doing developmental work in agriculture among the bonded Warli labourers of Talasari. Later, he established his mission headquarters in Ashagad, in Dahanu Taluka. He began his developmental work among the Warli farmers of Nagzari Dongaripada, 20 km in the interior forest. He implemented schemes of B.D.O. and water-shed projects.

Sr Horsy, a Sacred Heart nun had been teaching then in Sophia College, Mumbai. She used to organise NSS Camps of college girls on Cosbad hill, in Dahanu in the hostel of Anutai Vagh who was working for education of Warli children. Sr Anita had seen her Kuranshala (K.G. classes for cattle-grazing tribal children). Sr Anita was interested in working among the Adivasis, and her congregation too suggested she do some pioneering work. So Fr Stany welcomed the Sophia Sisters to Ashagad; the Carmelite sisters too joined them. For some time, they lived in Ashagad, and were learning about the Warli tribals.

Nagzari, Dongaripada is a distant Adivasi habitat, encircled by hills. The bus goes up to Ganjad village. Ganjad has 14 hamlets; crossing them and reaching Nagzari Dongaripada means one and a half hour walk. Then the Warli community in Thane District was bonded labourers, just like slaves. In the post-Independence period, in 1957, the government had enacted Tenancy and Land Ceiling Acts: "The Tillers own the land, and occupants are the owners of their house." To implement these acts, Frs Reggie and Stany worked very hard with the Revenue department, and bonded Warlis became owners of the land. They had a barter system; no money transactions. Their food was only cooked rice, and for taste, a pinch of salt. If they got some pulses from their fields, it was a feast for them; living on minimum things was their lifestyle. Warlis are children of Nature, so they dance in a Tarpa Dance along with Mother Earth. They are ensnared in superstitions, witchcraft, alcoholism. Malnutrition and infant mortality were part and parcel of their life. Forest produce and herbal medicines were their livelihood. Outsiders were all looters and enemies for them - Landlords, Police, Revenue department – Talathi and Tahsildar. India had got independence, but there was still deep darkness in the forest.

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