A group of newly baptized villagers in Chanda. (photo: Rev. Jacob Martin Kapiarmala, C.M.I.)
Distributing rice with the right hand, which is a symbol of immortal love. (photo: Rev. Jacob Martin Kapiarmala, C.M.I.)
Bishop Januarius, CMI (photo: Rev. Jacob Martin Kapiarmala, C.M.I.)
Lambady girls in their native costumes. (photo: Rev. Jacob Martin Kapiarmala, C.M.I.)
The heart of India is a challenging place. The land is barren and underdeveloped. The extreme heat of summer, which regularly reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit, further burdens the people of this region. They are a poor and uneducated people who work hard just to survive. Their hard labor earns them practically nothing.
These are the people for whom Christ brought the Good News of salvation. Yet only 26 years ago, when the mission diocese of Chanda was established, only a sprinkling of native Catholics lived here. Since then, remarkable things have happened. The Gospel is being proclaimed with vigor, and the local people are embracing the Good News.
1987 was the Jubilee Year for Chanda. At the 40 mission centers the celebration was marked with renewal programs. Priests, religious, catechists; men, women, youth, and children participated through 150 renewal programs. Along with parish celebrations, the Jubilee Year was an opportunity to promote the seven point program of Chanda. The final celebration earlier this year culminated in the celebration of the liturgy at the bishops house by four archbishops, 11 bishops, 150 priests, 300 sisters, and 3,000 lay Catholics representing the 40 mission centers.
The Chanda mission was established in central India in 1962. It consists of 20,000 square miles with a population of 47 million. At that time the only local Christians were about 600 Catholics who had come from different parts of India for factory work. They then had only three churches where a priest visiting from the Nagpur Archdiocese celebrated the divine liturgy once each month.
Indian missionaries came to Chanda from Kerala, in southwest India, where Saint Thomas the Apostle first brought Christianity to India in 52 A.D. 1,910 years later his spiritual heirs carried their Syro-Malabar Catholicism north. They had nothing in their hands, and they had to work hard. They learned the language of the people. They learned to preach the Good News about Jesus in diverse ways ways which made use of the peoples culture.
The local people accepted the message of Jesus willingly. Slowly they became His followers. As a result, today Chanda has 21,000 new converts, 62 priests, 215 religious sisters, 60 seminarians, 65 catechists, 40 homes for needy children, 35 convents, 7 hospitals, 6 leper colonies, 13 dispensaries even a printing press!
This growth would not have happened without dynamic and charismatic leadership. The Most Reverend Januarius, CMI, is the first ecclesiastical superior, exarch and, finally, bishop of this mission. He is a profound philosopher, original thinker, and man of vision and mission. His fresh approach to spirituality and missiology made possible the magnificent expansion of the Church in this area.
Bishop Januarius believes in the power of Jesus message. He says, There is no culture or people under the sun that the Gospel of Jesus cannot change. His approach shows that Christianity is not alien to Indian culture.
He encouraged his co-workers to proclaim the Gospel with an apostolic freedom of flexibility and adaptability. They would approach the people of any cultural or ethnic group with imagination and empathy. Consequently, rituals adapted to cultural traditions have made baptism, marriage, and the blessing of houses or institutions more meaningful to the local peoples. The external form of these rituals are Indian and adapted to each cultural group. Their content remains deeply Christian and biblical, true to the tradition of the Church.
Bishop Januarius developed the seven-point program to assure active participation of converts in their faith. These new Christians of Chanda live in 600 remote villages. In each village they are a minority. Priests reach them only with difficulty. The bishops program gives the local Christians a way to develop their faith and Christian practices in both internal attitudes and external observances on a daily basis.
Four symbols of Christian family identity bring the faith into homes in a powerful way. The Cross of Christ is the symbol of salvation which inspires us to bear the burden of our neighbors. A picture of Christ is a symbol of the person of Christ, the model to which we are to be transformed. The Bible is the Word of God, the ultimate solution to all human problems. Finally, a light which is lit during the family prayers is a symbol of Christs presence. These four symbols are installed in each familys home during a ritual with special prayers.
Three points of Christian behavior also are emphasized to offer the new believers a Christian approach to God, their neighbors, and the material world. Communitarian prayer, both at home and in the church, is our approach to God as our Father. Unconditional forgiveness teaches us to accept others as they are, which means unconditional love of others. Finally, sharing of earnings with needy neighbors teaches a giving of oneself in imitation of Christ.
Perhaps these seven points are small things, especially to Christians with good educations and a safe place in their Christian culture. To the poor people of Chanda who are seeking God, these symbols and actions are a great richness made even more important by their simplicity.
Jesus spoke in simple terms which were rich in meaning. Bishop Januariuss program is successful in the same way because it speaks to the hearts of these people. They rejoice in the Good News they have heard. For the millions of others here still hungering for this message of love and hope, there is a growing, vibrant community of faith to share the Good News.
Rev. Jacob Martin Kapiarmala recently visited the United States to encourage support for the Chanda Mission.