In the Footsteps of St. Thomas: Daughters and Sisters

Day 3, 1 March 2012

Early this morning we left Trivandrum for the town of Marthandam in the state of Tamil Nadu. There we joined Vincent Mar Paulose, the Syro-Malankara Catholic bishop, for a delightful breakfast. Mar Paulose had honored us with a visit during a recent trip to the states, so I looked forward to spending some time with him on this pastoral visit. He introduced us to his vicar general, who had served in Philadelphia for a few years, and also four deacons who are anxiously awaiting their day of ordination in the middle of April. By the way, these deacons specifically asked of you, the CNEWA family, for your prayers as they approach this momentous day.

After our breakfast, Mar Paulose gave us a thumbnail sketch of his eparchy, which is relatively young and began with no Catholics. He also shared with us that his priests are very young and he is blessed with more than 50 seminarians, and expressed profound thanks to the CNEWA family for our sustained assistance in support of seminarians, needy children and many other outreaches. He ended our visit by promising to remember all of you in his prayers.

One of the highlights of the day followed when we visited Vimala Orphanage. Here, we were warmly greeted by the house superior, Sister Rose Francis, and the house director, Sister Savio, and a bevy of beautiful young girls. Sisters led us inside where about a 140 girls — all orphans or abandoned and neglected — were assembled to greet us. This contingent of smiling girls represented three different orphanages, all of which are directed by the Daughters of Mary.

The main feature of our visit was to be entertained with songs and dances by these very special children. Their intricate hand and foot motions, their obvious delight in sharing their gifts with us and their genuine happiness overwhelmed me. The simplicity and the sincerity and the faith of these children were an inspiration to all of us.

After the entertainment, I had the privilege to chat with the girls. I shared with them a very simple message: That each one of them is a part of God’s family and that God loves each and every one of them as he loves children everywhere. I further shared with them that they have family in North America, in Canada and the United States, members of the CNEWA family who lovingly support them. Some of them even referred to you as their aunties and uncles to whom they have written. Please know how much they love you and how they promise to remember you in their prayers.

After completing a tour of the facilities, which included a visit to a beautiful museum dedicated to their founders, we departed for Thiruvithancode, where we visited the famous “half church” built by St. Thomas the Apostle. This was a very interesting visit and its history extends to the year A.D. 63, when according to tradition the doubting apostle built this edifice. After many years of change of administration, it is presently being well maintained by the Syriac Malankara Orthodox Church.

Our next stop was to join the Daughters of Mary in Pilankalai, where they run a home for the physically and mentally challenged. We stopped for lunch and a brief tour. The sisters went all out to make us welcome and to remove any hint of hunger on our part.

After driving for nearly two hours, we arrived in Kanyakumari at St. Joseph’s Balika Bhavan to be greeted by the Bethany Sisters, formerly known as the Sisters of the Imitation of Christ, and a delegation of the orphaned girls who reside there. These lovely girls also had prepared an entertainment program for us of song and dance. Their poise and their skills in every facet of this entertainment were very enriching. Afterward, we spoke about me, my role at CNEWA, the work of CNEWA and their important role in the future of India. Here again, I stressed with them that each one is special in God’s eyes and I also reminded them of God’s call to do something special for him and his people.

The girls then insisted on leading us by hand to show us their residence. They were very proud to show us their dining room, their kitchen and their laundry facilities — with great pride they spoke of being part of St. Joseph’s Balika Bhavan. As I found out later, some of these girls are the children have Hansen’s disease, more commonly known as leprosy. And although their parents are cared for at another Catholic institution, they themselves are not able to live with their parents.

Less than a mile away we paid a visit to Stella Maris Social Center, which is administrated by Sister Anila Christy of the Daughters of Mary. Sister Anila is no stranger to CNEWA or to New York as she served in the Archdiocese of New York and its chancery and canon law offices for a number of years. This humble woman, well educated in canon law, is at her best working with the poor.

Sister Anila and her colleague, Sister Monica, who is the former mother general of the Daughters of Mary, welcomed us and introduced us to two other sisters working at Stella Maris. After our fifth coffee break of the day (!), we were taken on a tour of the rather extensive campus. The sisters’ outreach includes community development, programs to empower women, care for people with Hansen’s disease, housing for abandoned people, vocational training and even a piggery, where the animals are sold for income. Being introduced to a group of women in training to be community leaders, it was obvious that they had great respect appreciation and admiration for Sister Anila. We certainly look forward to see Sister Anila again, and she has promised to visit us at our offices in New York this summer.

Much emphasis today was related to God’s little ones, especially those who are orphans. I share with you again their profound thanks for your sponsorship and support and their promise of prayers for each of you. As I end this day, which has been a very long one, I say a prayer of thanks for having been blessed to be in the presence of these children. May God allow us to be like them.

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