Two weeks ago I returned from India where I spent seventeen days with my family. Both my parents are up in heaven and so I spent my time with my brothers and sisters, and their families. It was a relaxing time and I have certainly re-charged my batteries. However, the time is always short and it was difficult to say good-bye. There was another interesting aspect to this visit. I landed in my city the day before Ash Wednesday. When we were children our family went on a completely vegetarian diet during the whole season of Lent. My siblings have maintained that tradition. I missed eating a lot of my favorite dishes, and so I can say that this visit was less than fulfilling. Jokes aside, my family thanks you for your kindness to me and sends their warm regards.
One of the highlights of my trip was my visit to Ginjee to be with Fr Val and his people. If you remember, during 2014 Lent we sacrificed and collected funds to build the community center for the Thurumbars in South India. Over the last several months we have shared pictures and accounts of this construction project in our bulletin. The building has been completed. In fact the people have been using it over the last few months. However, they have not officially inaugurated the building. Fr Val and his people were waiting for my visit to hold an official celebration.
On Monday, February 22nd, two of my brothers and myself went to Ginjee. Even though it is only 120 miles from my city, the drive took us over four and a half hours. We spent almost two hours just to get out of the city limits. The traffic congestion in Chennai is incredible and no one follows any traffic rules. When we reached Ginjee, the people were waiting to greet us. I was asked to declare the building officially open. The Thurumbars have installed a stone tablet to express their gratitude to the people of our parish. You will see a picture of the tablet elsewhere in this bulletin. Bishop Neethinathan from a nearby diocese – who happens to be one of my former students – blessed the building. Immediately thereafter everyone took a tour of the new facility.
You will be amazed at how well they are using that space. On the first floor they have a large hall that is used for meetings, Sunday Masses, study hall for children and as a dorm for men. They have a couple of offices, – for Fr Val and for Sister Alphonsa – a documentation center, a kitchen and a little chapel. In the upper level they have a dorm for women and three private rooms. On the third level they have a large space which they use for larger meetings and for summer camps for children. Outside the building they have constructed bathrooms and showers for men and women.
Immediately after the tour of the building, we had a public meeting during which several important persons who have collaborated with Fr Val spoke. The speeches were long. Almost all of them, and especially Fr Val, profusely thanked you, the parishioners, for your generosity. When it was my turn to speak, I excused myself because it has been a while since I have spoken publicly in my native tongue. I spoke briefly outlining the process by which we gathered funds for the building. I pointed out that I was only the channel for the parishioners’ kindness.
All the people – there were about two hundred individuals, both young and old – were treated to a sumptuous lunch. Many pictures were taken and there was ample video coverage. Fr Val has promised to send us some pictures. He is also working on a short video which we can link to our website. It will have English sub-titles since all the speeches were in Tamil.
As I sat there on that stage for almost three hours, I felt very proud to be your pastor. You have done something amazing, something profoundly Christian. The Lord is smiling on each and every one of you. None of you will ever come face to face with any of Fr Val’s people. Yet you have reached deep down into your hearts and made a sacrificial gift. Now they have a place of their own. They never dreamt that this day would come. Many of them told me personally to thank you.
You have changed the lives of people nine thousand miles away. These Thurumbars who have been despised and ignored by their own country feel a sense of hope now. They are proud to have a home, a place from which they can launch their efforts to regain their dignity and re-claim their rights. They are hopeful that they can build a better future for their children and grandchildren. God will certainly bless all of you and the parish for what you have given.
The completion of this project should give us great satisfaction and even some legitimate pride. However, instead of patting ourselves in the back, let us use this achievement to do even more to bless the lives of others. May our parish become a haven for the poor and the needy! May St Paul of the Cross parish be known not only for her deep faith but also for her great love for the poor! May Christ-like service be the hallmark of our parish community!
May the Good Lord bless you all!
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...