In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves while the country was still hurting from the Civil War. More than 150 years later, there are people still caught in the grips of slavery. This Lent we as a parish would like to follow the example of President Lincoln and reach out to an enslaved group living in faraway South India. They are called “Thurumbar”, which means “insignificant piece of dust or garbage.” In common parlance they are also known as “invisibles” because they are expected to leave their homes only at night. In the caste-ridden Indian social structure, they occupy the bottom because they are kept subservient even to the low castes. A young Salesian priest, Fr Val, has been laboring for more than a decade trying to improve their lot. He has been educating their children because education is the surest way to get them out of this oppressive cycle.
I have known Fr Val the last nine years and through the kindness of many friends here, I have supported his work. About four years ago through the generosity of people from Barrington we bought a piece of land where Fr Val hopes to establish a colony of homes. However, the site is far away from any big population center and is not easily accessible. As a result, Fr Val would like to build a community center close to the center of a big town that people can reach easily using public transportation.
Here is where we come in. The community center that Fr Val hopes to build will serve a multitude of functions. It will be used as Church on Sundays as many of these low caste people were converted to Christianity by French Missionaries in the nineteenth century. During the week, Fr Val and his staff will gather the people to educate them and to address their grievances. Since these people live far away, often they will have to use the center to spend the night. Finally, most of the families live in huts with mud walls and floors with thatched roofs. The only source of light in the house is an exposed electric bulb which makes it difficult for the children to study at night. Thus the building will also be used as a study center where the children can be tutored.
Our Lenten sacrifice will enable Fr Val to build this center that will bring the light of hope to his people. It will help that whole community to march towards full emancipation. If you would like to know more about Fr Val and his work for the Thurumbars of South India, come to our Soup Supper on Thursday, March 20, at 6:30 pm in the Parish Life Center. The words of Prophet Isaiah keep ringing in my ears: “The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light.” Our charitable gesture is consistent with our Lenten theme: “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the World!”
We will reflect the light of Christ to others by the sacrifices we will make during this holy season. We will have many opportunities to brighten the lights within our spirits too. Besides the usual practices such as the Stations, communal reconciliation service, and Lenten reflections, we are introducing Taize Prayer and Fr Barron’s “New Evangelization Series.” I encourage all of us to make a serious commitment to Sunday Mass. Hopefully we can even go to some weekday Masses. Perhaps we can make it a habit to spend some time in the adoration chapel.
As we enter this Lenten season, let us also keep our Sojourners who are preparing for the Easter sacraments. Let us pray for them and accompany them on their journey. In keeping with the spirit of the season, let us approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that our hearts will be contrite. Let us not forget the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and alms giving. As Paul told us in the second reading on Ash Wednesday, “This is the acceptable time, this is the time of salvation.” Let us keep awake and become true bearers of Christ, the Light.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...