Day 7, 5 March 2012
Today, we shifted gears and directed the focus to the staff of our regional office in Ernakulam, which is a city in Kerala of about three million people and very historic, especially in terms of the Christian faith. This is the seat of the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Mar George Cardinal Alencherry. We will have a visit with him in a few days, as he prepares to convene a synodal meeting with all his bishops of this church of four million souls. Since Cardinal George did me the honor of visiting me in New York several months ago, I am honored to be able to repay the visit.
However, today we focused our attention on the wonderful men and women who staff our office here in Ernakulam. It is the largest office in many ways: in the number of employees as well as the number of projects, institutions, programs and individuals directly assisted by CNEWA. The office primarily serves the two very dynamic Eastern Catholic churches in India, the Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankara churches, but the staff has also reached out to the other non-Catholic Eastern churches, which also include several million people.
My first surprise was the location of the office of CNEWA, as it is strategically located on the campus of the Syro-Malabar Archiepiscopal Curia. This is a large, impressive hilltop property just outside the city of historic Cochin (also referred to as Ernakulam). After making a turn just before reaching the top of the hill, we arrived at an unusually-designed building that houses the CNEWA offices. The design of the building was very creatively conceived by Thomas Varghese when he previously served as the regional director of this office and basically started from scratch. He and his team of architects and builders have assembled a very beautiful multilevel office structure that is bright, comfortable and very efficient in use of space and design.
But the best part of this CNEWA office is the lovely family-like staff who serves here. Their professionalism, as obvious as it appears, is second to the warm hearts and the genuine dedication of these hard working men and women.
Naturally, there was some apprehension as I entered. After all, the new big boss was now in the office for the day of reckoning and accompanied by the previous regional director. So how did they react to the new president of CNEWA? You would have to ask them, of course, what they thought of me as the new boss, but I can tell you they were very warm and welcoming. I felt right at home with each and every one of them. I shared with my thoughts that, despite being separated by time differences and continents, we are one family in CNEWA and I thanked them for the amazing work they do. By the way, they were obviously joyful in having Thomas “back home” with them.
What impresses me about the work of this dedicated staff is the sheer scope of the outreach done through them. The office cares for tens of thousands of orphans or needy children living in homes associated with CNEWA’s sponsorship programs; thousands of school-age children receive educational subsidies; thousands of the abandoned elderly, the feeble, the sick, the dying are lovingly tended to with dignity and grace; homes are built for the poor; water is retained for farmers and families; generations of young men have been formed to serve the Lord as priests (and I have visited already with many of them) as well as generations of women who have entered religious life; churches, parish halls, convents, rectories all built with your prayers and support! All of this is coordinated, visited, reviewed, distributed and reported on by this talented family team of CNEWA. I expressed to all of them, not just my profound thanks for all they do, but I also included you in my expressions of thanks.
Our host for my entire pastoral visit is Mr. M.L. Thomas, who has been a loyal member of the CNEWA team since the office was opened in Ernakulam some nine years ago. He does an exceptional job in directing all these efforts in India. He is very well respected by bishops, priests, sisters and all the people responsible for administering the programs and institutions of these dynamic churches. He is most highly regarded by his staff. And, in this regard, he follows so well in the footsteps of his predecessor Thomas Varghese.
I did not even realize it, but as large as the office outreach is today, until only nine years ago the processing of the needs and distributions was handled by the papal nuncio to India. With all the other responsibilities of a nuncio, it was not possible for him to give the necessary attention to the mountains of details as is the case today. So the office was initiated by Thomas and my predecessor, Msgr. Stern, to accommodate the many needs of administration on behalf of CNEWA
Imagine the volume of visits and communications needed to serve thousands of institutions and programs. The India regional office does an amazing job in reaching out to the poor. And that should make all of you reading this feel really good. Your charity and your prayers are working and bringing about some amazing results in the name of the church and on behalf of our Holy Father.
I invited, or rather I should say that M. L. (as he is commonly called) invited, all of the staff to join me for a lovely lunch at a restaurant. It was a happy occasion and I was delighted to get to know everyone and to see them hungry and happy — just what a family gathering and meal should be.
After lunch, I visited a tailor, well known to countless bishops and priests for making cassocks for their everyday use. All priests and bishops here dress in a white cassock and for future visits I, too, want to be properly dressed, so I am having some cassocks made by this gentleman. I will also wear them in other hot climate zones, all over India and beyond.
It was a gentle day and a very fulfilling one to be with my India regional office family. They all expressed their loving best wishes to you and their thanks for all the charitable good works made possible by your gifts and effected by their labors. God bless you for giving such dignity to so many of the poorest of the poor in India. Your presence with me is felt by so many here in India.