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From India, With Love

text and photos by Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.

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The magnificent land of India could never be traveled in the five weeks we were there, so we compromised by scheduling most of the visit to the state of Kerala. After landing in Bombay, we flew to Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala. By jeep and by foot we made our way throughout the state. Our purpose was to visit the people and the bishops of the Eastern churches – to renew personal friendships and meet the people we serve.

Our journey began in Bombay, a metropolis poised at the site where many centuries and traditions meet. It is all here: the East of the film set, mud huts and inscrutable crowds, the dhoti, kurta and sari, rickshaws and limousines. Turn a corner and you are in the midst of a traffic jam. Turn another and the Arabian Sea beckons. Bombay teems and glitters; a village of six million souls named by the mother goddess Mumba Devi.

In a small school in Bombay, children are assisted by benefactors of Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The warm meal of rice is their single source of food for the day; before the teachers even attempt to fill their minds, their stomachs have to be filled.

Devoted to education, Kerala spends 40 percent of its budget on schools. It is one of India’s smallest states, yet it leads the country in health care, education and enthusiasm – a model of development.

We were often reminded by our hosts that they had rejected the “beggar” image Westerners often gave them. They seek assistance not as an “underdeveloped nation,” but as a “developing nation.” And when needed, they in turn would help. Msgr. Stern described this attitude in terms of family. When one family member helps another, it is appreciated and mutually recognized as an act of kindness, which later will be reciprocated.

In the church, this is exemplified by many religious congregations whose vocations number hundreds of men and women offering to serve in the missions of Africa and northern India. The church in Kerala is bursting with converts and vocations. Many religious have already been sent to the developed nations in the West, including the United States, to bolster the declining number of vocations to religious life. A mother never counts the times that she assists her child. Nor does the child forget his mother. That is the church family. That is the message of Christ.

Visitors to India confess their inability to define the quintessence of the land and the people. Yet all agree that there are aspects which yield a glimpse of it. India’s infinite variety is among these. It is overwhelming.

These multiple images arise from the assimilation of alien influences into the Indian mainstream throughout the centuries. While some of these influences developed further, geographical factors and the sheer size of the country prevented their simultaneous and similar impact.

The church is not isolated from these influences. Inculturation, the process of purging the faith of excessive western elements and incorporating it in native traditions, is a primary goal of India’s church.

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Tags: India Education Unity Eastern Churches