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ONE Magazine
God • World • Human Family • Church

A Letter From India

My name is Lijo Chummar. I’m the headmaster of a Sunday school in the state of Kerala in south India. I consider it a privilege to lead young minds on the path of faith. It’s something I’ve done for nearly 30 years.

Being a catechism teacher has its share of responsibilities — to the church, to the parish, to parishioners. But above all we teachers are called to help guide the young ones on their journey of faith. We have 2,000 Catholic families in our parish and 50 teachers in the school. Together, we teach the students to look after those who have less than they do. We teach them to reach out to everyone: beggars on the streets, people with leprosy, those who are mentally ill and those who have no one to look after them. Our students wash and feed them and remind them of their inherent dignity.

I believe the lessons learned outside the classroom are as important as what is learned inside. We give books to people at railway stations, bus stops and hospitals. We visit those in need at psychiatric hospitals, orphanages, homes for the elderly and homes for the disabled. This, I feel, is my biggest challenge: Inculcate in young people the idea that faith is more than a theory or a philosophy — it is something practiced and lived. 

How does one become a catechist?

I was fortunate to have Christ in my life from a very early age. I grew up in a Syro-Malabar Catholic family in a village called Edakunnu. We were a family of four: my mom, dad, my sister Laji, and me. My parents were both teachers. Our life was simple.

Edakunnu was away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Most of the families there were Catholic. Most men were farmers and women either helped with farming or looked after their homes. Church was the center of their lives.

Holidays were focused on saints or religious events. On Fridays, people did not eat meat. On Sundays, everybody went to Mass. Church leaders ran schools and hospitals. Monks and nuns provided food and shelter for travelers. Priests recorded births, married people and presided at funerals. This simple lifestyle and faith cultivated in me a real love for our Catholic culture.

The Carmelite Sisters ran my school. The sisters used to help poor families by counseling them, especially those who were addicted to drugs or alcohol. They inspired me to help recovering addicts when I was older.

There were other influences as well. There was a convent run by the Sisters of Nazareth near my house. It had a 100-acre farm with a hospital and an orphanage. A monastery was also situated nearby, and there was a home for retired priests in my village. Mass was celebrated at 5 every morning. My mother used to take me every single day, beginning when I was very young. When I look back at it now, it was indeed a great blessing to have had a wonderful Christian influence so early in my life.

One of my memorable experiences in Edakunnu was meeting a saintly priest, Msgr. Mathew Mankuzhukari, who was my confessor for five years. This experience drew me closer to being involved in parish life.

My sister and I used to visit the convent library and started reading the biographies of Catholic saints. One of the books I read was about St. Maria Goretti. This was the first book I read that provided an intimate look into the mind and heart of a saint. Her simplicity and purity captured my heart.

Then I read about St. Francis Xavier, who is called “the Second Apostle of India,” after St. Thomas. This book gave me an entirely new perspective about mission and evangelization. Later I read the lives of many saints and developed an ardent devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and a special love for the Mother of our beloved Lord.

In 1990, the Holy Spirit had a profound effect on the church of Kerala, sweeping over the region through the Potta Divine Retreat Centers.

Divine Retreat Center, which claims to have been ministered to ten million people, was founded in 1987 by Vincentian priests. This blossomed quickly into the largest Catholic retreat center in the world, helping to spread charismatic Catholicism in India.

In 1991, I attended a charismatic retreat. It transformed my life. For this I owe much to the Potta Divine ministry.

At Potta Divine, I had a glimpse of what the evangelical life of the early church might have been. 

I was also able to hear gifted priests preach the Gospel and experience the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. This renewal experience touched my life profoundly.

Years have passed since Edakunnu. I now live with my family in the city of Trichur, where I teach mechanical engineering at the Government Engineering College. My wife Shiny and I have three children: two teenage daughters, Josiya and Sefaniya, and my son Jesse. Jesse is studying to be a Syro-Malabar priest at the Kottayam Vadavathoor seminary.

The Book of Proverbs tells us: “Train a boy in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not swerve from it.”

These words became true in my life.

My children have strong faith. Even when they were young, they used to go to church and attend Mass every day. They used to fast and abstain from candy and cake. On Christmas or Easter morning, as soon as Mass was over, we used to distribute sweets to the poor. The joy they experienced was immeasurable.

A couple memories from their childhood are still fresh in my mind.

One day when my son and I were walking in the market, a couple of beggars, men we had been seeing and helping for years, recognized us and came to us. They held our hands in joy. Then they put their hands on us and blessed us. Another time, we were visiting an old age home. One of the mothers there thought I was her son. She came to me and gave me food. Both these instances fill my eyes with tears of happiness as I recall them.

Since the experience at the retreat, my prayer life changed and I had a fervent zeal to share the Gospel with my friends and neighbors. I shared my experiences with my local priest. He asked me to start a prayer group in our parish, as well as serve as a religious teacher there.

Our group was a huge success. In time, it expanded. Many others joined in. Today, our prayer group includes doctors, engineers, businessmen, teachers, taxi drivers and many others. Sadly, this mission dwindled after the big floods in Kerala in 2018. But we continue in our service, albeit on a smaller scale for now.

Prayer continues to guide us in all we do.

We have a young priest in our eparchy, the Rev. Jijo Vakaparambil. One day, he was diagnosed with cancer. All of us in the parish started praying for him. We wondered how we could help him.

This led us to undertake a pilgrimage to a mountain in our eparchy called Kanakamala.

We climbed the mountain, carrying in our hearts two intentions: Heal this priest and bring an end to the sale of alcohol in our town, which has caused so much hardship and pain. The Lord answered our cries majestically. The priest was healed and liquor sales dropped.

As a result, every year we make a pilgrimage to this holy mountain. Our present intentions are for the sanctification and physical healings of priests all over the world and for healing and deliverance for all those addicted to alcohol.

When I share my humble experiences of my Christian life, I have to add this: I have nothing to boast. It is only pure grace, as St. Paul says. It is not me, but the grace of the Lord working through me.

So I give all honor and glory to my beloved savior, the Lord Jesus.

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