ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Focus: Reaching the Unreached in India

I recently returned from a pastoral visit to India and I would like to share with you some uplifting and exciting highlights of my visit.

By way of a little background, CNEWA’s work in India focuses on assisting and accompanying the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches. These churches trace their heritage to the time of St. Thomas the Apostle. As mission-minded churches, its members reach out all over the world, dynamically serving as proclaimers and evangelizers.

But we have concentrated much of our support for these churches in the south — specifically in the state of Kerala. Thanks be to God, the churches in Kerala have flourished; many young men are drawn to the priesthood, and young women, though perhaps in slightly fewer numbers, are becoming sisters. Little by little, the church in southern India is becoming more and more self-sufficient.

But now the great call of these churches is to reach out to the real mission territory of India: The spiritual sons and daughters of the Apostle Thomas have undertaken a new missionary thrust to evangelize the “unreached” in the northern half of India.

On a series of visits with my hosts — a team of humble priests, religious sisters and lay leaders, including catechists — I have experienced firsthand this new approach to missionary life in India. It is happening not by building schools, erecting clinics or developing social service projects, but simply by humbly living with the poor. This means no formal structures — no buildings per se — but living, breathing witnesses of Christ who share with the poor the love that God has for all, giving them a sense of hope and belonging.

Cultural and political sensitivities prohibit me from sharing with you where some of these visits have taken place, but I can tell you what I experienced. I met humble, tribal people. Many were not of any caste (thus, they are literally outcasts) and all of them were hungry to learn about Jesus. They felt very comfortable and loved by the priests, sisters and lay leaders who were sharing their faith with the poor.

I may have been the first North American to have ever visited them — and these beautiful, spiritually thirsty souls made me feel most welcome by making the sign of the cross and praying with me (in their local language) the Lord’s Prayer. This is where I really choked up; at that moment I felt that God truly was the father of us all. They reminded me of this tenet of my faith.

This was a group that included everyone, from suckling babes and their young mothers, to youngsters of every age and some elderly people as well. They had no church building, but were just content to sit on the ground with a simple tarp hanging overhead.

This mission team has lovingly invited these souls to learn more about Jesus and his church. One of the key components in this outreach is the role of the catechist, the team leader. These are the frontline teachers, spiritual guides who live in the villages with the poor and welcome them each day into their huts to discover more fully how they are not alone, how Jesus is always with them and how he wants to share his love with them more fully through the sacraments.

But the priests and sisters also live with them and make regular pastoral visits to many outlying villages and hamlets where the physical conditions are undeveloped.

I was also privileged to visit the state of Punjab in the northwest of India, bordering on Pakistan. Accompanying the Syro-Malabar bishop of Faridabad, Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara, whose territory covers about one-fourth of India, we traveled to the remote town of Panniwala for a pastoral visit with 300 catechumens preparing for baptism. Due to many unforeseen challenges — namely, horrible road conditions, the lack of maps and very few people able to direct us — we arrived hours late. Arriving almost in darkness, we were shocked to be greeted by over 200 excited drummers, Punjabi dancers and faith-filled poor who escorted us to a public area where we were welcomed as honored guests.

In my words to them (ably translated by one of the priests), I simply shared a common message to the poor, that “we are all part of a larger family — God’s family — and he loves each and every one of us. No one is alone, because Jesus always walks with us.” But their fervor in learning about the faith and their pride in expressing it, along with their beautiful welcome to me, made this point much more eloquently. As I have found so often in my priesthood: The learner becomes the teacher, the disciple becomes the master.

There are still many places on earth where the Good News of Jesus has not yet been heard. And sadly, there are places where it has been lost or nearly extinguished. The great north of India is ripe for the missionary call of these two dynamic churches. And CNEWA is committed to walk with them on this important journey of faith.

Would you like to join CNEWA in helping the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara churches extend their hearts and hands to the unreached of India? Would you like to assist these missionaries in bringing hope to the poor by coming to learn about and appreciate the Good News?

Your financial gifts allow us to fortify our expressions of solidarity with these churches and with the poor in these unreached areas.

I have a special favor to ask of you. As you make the sign of the cross and say the Our Father, think of the smiling and hope-filled faces of these humble souls as they grow in their faith, learning they are enveloped in the arms of God. Then, thank God for the gift of faith, the witness of the missionaries, and for the poor themselves!

May God bless you.

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