29 June 2016
School food programs in Ethiopia provide students with nutritionally dense biscuits daily.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
In the Summer 2016 edition of ONE, CNEWA’s President Msgr. John E. Kozar reflects on a recent visit to drought-ridden Ethiopia:
Most of my visit was concentrated in the extreme northern reaches of the country bordering Eritrea. This is a vast mountainous area that has very challenging “roads” to reach remote villages; in many instances there are no roads at all, only dangerous mountain footpaths.
After a tortuous two-hour, nail-biting trip in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, our director of programs, Thomas Varghese, and I arrived in a remote village named Aiga, where we stopped at the humble parish school of St. Michael. There, the children warmly greeted us with songs and prayers and welcomed us lovingly into their classrooms, which have only the barest hint of outside natural light for the classes.
After visiting with each of the classes, we went outside the school, where they lined up to receive their “CNEWA” biscuits: a two-biscuit pack that would sustain them as the school day went on and would give them enough energy to walk home to their mountain dwellings. Most of the children walked over steep mountain trails for two or three hours each way to come to school. This simple nutritional supplement means the difference between these beautiful children coming to school or staying at home.
There were two very touching moments for me as they were enjoying their biscuits. The first came when I saw many children only eating one biscuit and wrapping up the other one to take home to be shared with others in their family; and the second was when a little girl offered me one of her biscuits. Tears came to my eyes at this gesture of kindness and generosity. What a demonstration of the Christian values that they learn in school and practice in their humble homes.
Read more in the magazine. And watch the video below for more of Msgr. Kozar’s impressions from that trip. If you’d like to support CNEWA’s work in Ethiopia, and help the hungry hold on to life, visit this giving page.
29 June 2016
Relatives of one of the victims of the 28 June suicide attack at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport mourn on 29 June in front of a morgue in Istanbul. The bombings killed dozens and wounded more than 200 as Turkish officials blamed the carnage at the international terminal on three suspected Islamic State group militants. (photo: CNS/Osman Orsal, Reuters)
Pope prays for victims of Istanbul attack (CNS) Pope Francis led pilgrims in praying for peace and for the victims of a terrorist attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport in Turkey. “Yesterday evening in Istanbul, a heinous terrorist attack was made that has killed and wounded many people. Let us pray for the victims, their families and for the dear Turkish people,” the pope said 29 June after reciting the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter’s Square...
Pope Francis: Saints Peter and Paul link East to West (Vatican Radio) The Church of Rome was founded on the faith of Saints Peter and Paul, the two Apostles from the Holy Land whose feast day is celebrated 29 June: that’s what Pope Francis recalled during his midday Angelus address on this Rome holiday. The entire universal Church, he said, considers the two patron saints of Rome “two pillars and two great lights which shine not only in the Rome sky, but in the hearts of believers of the Orient and the West...”
Patriarch issues statement after assassination attempt (AINA) Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II Karim of the Syriac Orthodox Church issued a statement on the assassination attempt on his life last week. On 19 June, while the Patriarch was leading a commemoration service for the Turkish genocide of Assyrians in World War One, a suicide bomber attacked the service but was stopped by the Assyrian Sutoro military forces in Qamishli, Syria...
Lebanese army raids refugee camps after suicide bombings (The Wall Street Journal) Lebanon’s army raided Syrian refugee camps and politicians called for a border clampdown, a day after a series of suicide bombings in the predominantly Christian border town of Qaa. Lebanese forces descended on camps in the northeast on Tuesday, arresting more than 100 people for not having legal papers and confiscating motorcycles, state media said. Several bombers had arrived in Qaa on such vehicles on Monday...
Patriarch urges longterm repatriation for solution in Middle East (CNS) Poor, destitute refugees now comprise half the people living in Lebanon, according to Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church. They are attractive targets for terrorist recruiting, and their continued presence threatens to drown Lebanon’s identity, he said. A permanent solution to the refugee crises throughout the Middle East requires lasting peace and the repatriation of refugees, not resettlement to third countries, he added...
Patriarch Rai: To save the Middle East, save Lebanon (Aleteia) Look to the Lebanese model for solutions to the turmoil in the Middle East, says the head of the Maronite Church. Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the Lebanon-based Patriarch of Antioch for the Maronites, spoke with Aleteia Monday while on a pastoral visit to the United States...
Kerala diocese introduces blood donation as an offering (The News Minute) A Latin Catholic Diocese in Thiruvananthapuram district has introduced blood donation as an offering in church. The diocese made the announcement on 14 June, World Blood Donation Day. “Blood donation is one of the greatest offerings, so we decided to introduce it,” said Father Valsalan Jose, parish priest of Kochupally church Kamukincode, Neyyattinkara...
28 June 2016
Bechara Peter Cardinal Rai, the Maronite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, has been an outspoken advocate for reconciliation in his homeland. (photo: John E. Kozar)
During a time of turmoil and violence in his homeland, Lebanon’s Bechara Peter Cardinal Rai — Maronite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch — has been a heroic voice calling for reconciliation. It was a subject he addressed during his visit to CNEWA yesterday, and it’s one he’s made a hallmark of his ministry to the people of Lebanon.
He was enthroned as Patriarch of Antioch and all the East on 25 March 2011, the Feast of the Annunciation. Fittingly, his name “Bechara” means “annunciation.” That day, he served as a kind of herald to the people of Lebanon, both Christian and Muslim, announcing a message of “communion and love,” the very words he chose for his patriarchal motto.
In his homily, the patriarch did something bold for a Catholic leader, quoting from the Quran and its account of the annunciation. He noted the esteem in which Muslims hold Mary, and he sought common ground:
For the sake of “communion and love” we work together in the countries of the Middle East and with you the representatives of the leaders of our brother and sister countries, and we work to preserve and strengthen our relations of solidarity with the Arab world, and to establish a sincere and complete dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters and build together a future in common life and cooperation. For one single destiny links Muslims and Christians in Lebanon and the countries of the region in which, a culture particular to all of us, was built up by the diverse civilizations which passed one after another in our lands and thus we have a common patrimony in which we all shared in its creation and now work at its cultural development. We accompany with anxiety the uprisings and protests which are taking place here and there in our Arab countries. We regret the victims and the wounded and we pray for stability and peace.
As an emissary of hope and healing in the world CNEWA serves, the patriarch has been a great supporter of our shared mission to uplift those who are suffering and to accompany those in need. In Lebanon today, that includes an overwhelming number of refugees, many fleeing war and terror in Iraq and Syria; they now make up roughly half the country’s population.
Visting Syria three years ago, the patriarch issued a passionate plea for peace:
“Here in Damascus we say together: ’Enough of war and violence! Enough of the killing and destruction of homes and landmarks! Enough uprooting and suffering inflicted on innocent citizens! … We preach together the Gospel of peace, we work hand in hand for reconciliation, the promotion of human rights and dignity. … Every drop of innocent blood that is shed is a tear from the eyes of Christ.”
To assist the patriarch and support the work of CNEWA in Lebanon, visit this page.
28 June 2016
Pope Francis greets retired Pope Benedict XVI during a 28 June ceremony at the Vatican marking the 65th anniversary of the retired pope’s priestly ordination. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)
Pope Francis had warm words for his predecessor today, marking marking the 65th anniversary of Benedict’s ordination to the priesthood. CNS has details:
In his first public address in almost a year, retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sincere gratefulness to Pope Francis, saying that his goodness “from the first moment of your election, in every moment of my life here, touches me deeply.”
“More than the beauty found in the Vatican Gardens, your goodness is the place where I live; I feel protected,” Pope Benedict said 28 June.
Pope Benedict also conveyed his hope that Pope Francis would continue to “lead us all on this path of divine mercy that shows the path of Jesus, to Jesus and to God.”
Pope Francis led a Vatican celebration for the 65th anniversary of Pope Benedict’s priestly ordination. The two were joined by the heads of Vatican offices and congregations and several guests, including a delegation from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Those gathered gave Pope Benedict a standing ovation as he made his way into the Clementine Hall and took his seat to the right of the pope’s chair.
A few minutes later, Pope Francis entered the hall and made a beeline for his predecessor, who respectfully removed his zucchetto before greeting him. Pope Francis has made no secret of his admiration for the retired pontiff, often comparing him to a “wise grandfather at home.”
During his return flight to Rome from Armenia 26 June,, Pope Francis praised Pope Benedict for “protecting me and having my back with his prayers.”
For more, check out the CNS video of the event and the remarks below.
28 June 2016
Tags: Pope Francis Pope Benedict XVI
In this image from 2013, worshipers leave Sunday liturgy in the village of Al Qaa in Lebanon. The village in on high alert today, after it was attacked by suicide bombers Monday. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
Lebanon’s northeastern village of Al Qaa, a Lebanese Christian village, was in a state of alert Tuesday as security forces expanded search operations after eight suicide bombers attacked the village yesterday — Monday, 27 June 2016. The bombers killed five and wounded over 30 people in the latest violent spillover of the five-year-old Syrian war into Lebanon.
A first wave of attacks involved four suicide bombers who struck after 4 a.m., killing five people, all civilians. The first bomber blew himself up after being confronted by a resident, with the other three detonating their bombs one after the other as people arrived at the scene. A second series of attacks, involving at least four assailants, took place in the evening. Two of the bombers arrived on motorcycles, hurled explosives and then blew themselves up outside Mar Elias Melkite Greek Catholic Church — which has received support from CNEWA — as residents were preparing the funerals of those killed earlier.
Security sources said they believed Islamic State was responsible for the bombings but there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
These events have revived fears of a return to the violence that had targeted the Lebanese army and Hezbollah areas in the past.Lebanon has been repeatedly jolted by militant attacks linked to the war in neighboring Syria. The last suicide attack to rock Lebanon was on 12 November 2015, when two suicide bombers blew themselves up on a busy street in the Burj al Barajneh neighborhood of Beirut’s southern suburbs, killing 47 people and wounding over 200 others. The attack was claimed by ISIS.
Local TV footage showed yesterday Al Qaa’s residents holding rifles calling on the government to support the Christian village in defending itself as hundreds of ISIS militants are holed up on the eastern outskirts of the town.
ISIS hopes to force Christian community to leave the village; by controlling Al Qaa, the fanatic militants will be able to create a corridor to the Mediterranean, as the Lebanese Army explained in a communiqué earlier.
ISIS had urged its followers to launch attacks on “nonbelievers” during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began in early June.
The area of Masharih al Qaa — a predominantly Sunni area near Al Qaa — is home to a large number of refugees who have fled the war in Syria.
Al Qaa is located about 30 miles north of the city of Baalbek, where Hezbollah holds sway, and about 90 miles from Beirut. It is a Christian village of 15,000 residents, mainly Melkite Greek Catholics — under the jurisdiction of the Melkite Greek Catholic bishop of Baalbek — situated several miles north of Ras Baalbek, next to the eastern border with Syria’s Homs district, in the Hermel area. Al Qaa and Ras Baalbek are the only two villages with a Christian majority in the predominantly Shiite region, where Hezbollah enjoys wide support.
For decades, this rural agrarian village has been lagging behind the rest of the country, having received less assistance from either the government of Lebanon or local NGOs. Consequently, it suffers from a high rate of poverty, limited economic and educational opportunities and dire health conditions. Around 80 percent of the inhabitants subsist on agriculture and thus are considered very vulnerable and poor, with unstable incomes. The remaining minority is engaged either in small businesses or in the army. During the Lebanese war, for security reasons, the majority of the Christians left the village for safer areas.
The village is poor in its supply of water. As one of the consequences of the civil war in 1976, the major source of water to Al Qaa coming from the Shiite village of Labweh was cut. CNEWA assisted in rehabilitating the village artesian well in 2013.
Due to the intense presence of Syrian refugees presently living in the village of Al Qaa — around 20,000, compared to 140 Christian families — the water supply represents a serious challenge to the local community, especially for irrigation.
CNEWA is coordinating with the Melkite Greek Catholic parish priest of Al Qaa, the Rev. Elian Nasrallah, and has spoken to him this morning, ensuring that he was safe.
Father Elian Nasrallah, a good friend of CNEWA and a long time partner in several projects, is not only an active priest of 28 years in his remote parish in Al Qaa, but also has been very vigorous and creative in finding ways to improve the educational growth and social development of his parishioners. What Father Nasrallah has been doing in his parish is a work of mercy. In his poor community, he keeps the youngsters off the streets and in schools, teaches them different skills, entertains them with music, theatre and sports activities, strengthens their spiritual lives and allows them to have fun, all the while providing impoverished families access to health services.
Since the 80’s, Father Elian has worked to create a stronger Christian community in a neglected region surrounded by a Muslim majority, where no economic, educational or health opportunities are available. In the village’s multipurpose hall, the father used to gather youth and provide activities — computer skills; technical formation; art, theater and music classes, including a choir; sports activities; summer camps; spiritual formation; and various other activities. He also provides the existing families with access to health services through the village dispensary, supported by CNEWA.
Following the huge influx of Syrians finding shelter in the village, and through funds from CNEWA’s generous donors, the father was able to extend his hands to the poor refugees and has provided them with basic emergency aid, including blankets, mattresses, food packages, fuel for heating, medical support and even education to young Syrian children.
Read more about the flight of Syrian refugees to Al Qaa in Crossing the Border from the Spring 2013 edition of ONE.
28 June 2016
Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians Violence against Christians Melkite
Lebanese army soldiers and forensic experts inspect the site where suicide bomb attacks took place 27 June in the village of Qaa. (photo: CNS/Hassan Abdallah, Reuters)
Suicide bombers strike predominantly Christian village in Lebanon (CNS) Suicide bombers attacked a predominantly Christian village in northeast Lebanon twice in one day, and residents called on the government to support them, saying ISIS fighters were holed up on the outskirts of town. Two separate sets of four suicide bombers attacked the village of Al Qaa on 27 June; the first attack killed five people in addition to the bombers. About 30 people were injured in the two incidents, the second of which occurred near St. Elias Melkite Greek Catholic Church as people were preparing for the funerals of the people killed in the first bombing…
Pope to patriarchate: ‘God’s mercy is a bond uniting us’ (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis addressed a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, with whom he held a private audience on Tuesday in the Vatican, calling the mercy of God ‘the bond uniting us’. The delegation came to Rome following the conclusion of the weeklong Pan-Orthodox Council, which was held on the Greek island of Crete…
A new church for displaced Christians dedicated in Iraq (Fides) Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I inaugurated a large church dedicated to Mary Mother of Perpetual Help on Monday, 27 June, in Ain Kawa — a Christian-majority suburb of the city of Erbil, where many Christians sought refuge from ISIS after fleeing their villages in the Nineveh Plain. The new, large church building was funded with the offerings of the faithful…
Catholic agencies second only to UN in providing aid to Iraq and Syria (Catholic Register) Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) Canada National Director Carl Hétu reports Catholic aid agencies contributed $150 million in 2015 to help the people of Iraq and Syria. “This is quite amazing,” said Mr. Hétu, who attended the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches at the Vatican from 14 to 16 June as a representative of CNEWA. This was the highest level of aid going into the Middle East from any group after the United Nations, Hetu said. This Catholic response, organized, planned and working with and through the churches of region went to help “all of the people in the Middle East,” not only Christians…
27 June 2016
Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians Iraqi Christians Ecumenism ISIS
Bechara Peter Cardinal Rai, Maronite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, takes questions during a press conference in New York on 27 June. (photo: CNEWA)
As part of his pastoral visit to the United States, Bechara Peter Cardinal Rai, Maronite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, visited CNEWA’s New York offices Monday for a series of events that underscored the challenges Lebanon is facing today.
The patriarch’s schedule included delivering an important statement on “the present situation and future prospects” of Christians in the Middle East, a news conference, personal interviews, meetings, and an interfaith luncheon — all held at CNEWA’s New York headquarters on First Ave.
CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, greets the patriarch, left, who was welcomed to CNEWA by CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar, right. (photo: CNEWA)
The patriarch was greeted by CNEWA’s chair, New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who welcomed him to the New York Catholic Center. After exchanging greetings, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar accompanied him to CNEWA’s board room, where the patriarch held a news conference to discuss developments in the Middle East.
Msgr. John E. Kozar introduces the patriarch and his staff to reporters and CNEWA staff.
The patriarch took pains to emphasize the rich history shared by Christians and Muslims in the Middle East, and the vital role Christianity has played there across the centuries.
“Christians helped spread the culture of diversity, moderation, openness, respect, acceptance and cooperation with those who are different,” he said in his opening statement. “The Christian presence has enriched the Middle East, its cultures and history, with evangelical values on the human, political, cultural and social levels.” He explained: “Christianity became an essential part of the culture of those countries and it has also benefited from Islamic values and traditions. This Christian-Muslim interaction has resulted in a spirit of openness and modernity for the majority of Muslims. This constitutes a sign of hope for a better future for the Middle East.”
During his remarks, the patriarch said “a political solution to the conflicts (in the Middle East) ought to be a top priority.” (photo: CNEWA)
But he also took note of continued turmoil in the region — civil war, terrorism, widespread displacement and a growing number of refugees — and called for just and lasting solutions.
“A political solution to the conflicts ought to be a top priority,” he said, “and a just, global and permanent peace should be established as soon as possible.” He called on the international community to work to secure the return of refugees to their homes and their land. He said he believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the origin of problems in the Middle East, and stated: “A solution to that problem ought to be found in according with the United Nations Resolutions, which would allow the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside an Israeli State.”
He also took note of the overwhelming number of refugees that have flowed into Lebanon, with roughly half the country’s population now comprised of people who have fled Syria or Palestine. The roots of the crisis, he said, run deep. “The countries of the Middle East,” he explained, “are victims of international competition motivated by political, economic and strategic interests related to oil and gas and linked more particularly to the most inhuman disregard for life, the constant profiting from the sale of arms.”
After taking questions from the gathered reporters, and elaborating on his statement, the patriarch attended a small luncheon, featuring some two dozen interfaith and ecumenical leaders — and a few familiar faces, including an old friend, CNEWA’s President Emeritus, Msgr. Robert Stern.
Bishop Gregory Mansour, Msgr. John E. Kozar, and Bechara Peter Cardinal Rai greet CNEWA’s President Emeritus, Msgr. Robert Stern. (photo: CNEWA)
This marked his first visit to CNEWA in five years — and it had great meaning not only for us, but for others working for peace in the world we serve.
“His care extends to not only Christians in need, but to men and women of good will of other faith traditions,” said Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour, who accompanied him to CNEWA and who serves the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn. “They, too, have fled the bloodshed that has destroyed huge swaths of a once vibrant and diverse Middle East.”
The patriarch is scheduled to be in the United States until 10 July. His visit includes stops in a number of Maronite Catholic communities and parishes throughout the eparchies, or dioceses, of St. Maron of Brooklyn and Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles. We hope he returns soon!
Bechara Peter Cardinal Rai, center, and Bishop Gregory Mansour, beside him, pose with some of the CNEWA staff after the patriarch’s press conference. (photo: CNEWA)
27 June 2016
Tags: Lebanon Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Maronite Church
Children and their grandmother stand in their home in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, which suffered heavy damage in the 2014 war. To read a powerful and personal account of life in Gaza today, check out A Letter from Gaza in the Summer edition of ONE. (photo: Shareef Sarhan)
27 June 2016
Pope Francis and Catholicos Karekin II, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, pour water on a tree in a model of Noah's Ark during an ecumenical meeting and prayer for peace in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia, on 25 June. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope concludes trip to Armenia with call for unity (Vatican Radio) On the last day of his three day visit to Armenia, Pope Francis participated Sunday in the Divine Liturgy celebrated by his Oriental Orthodox host, Catholicos of all Armenians Karekin II. In a discourse at the conclusion of the celebration, Pope Francis spoke of his “already unforgettable” visit and prayed that the two Churches “follow God’s call to full communion and hasten to it...”
Pope speaks of Armenian massacre and Christian persecution (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday met with Armenia’s political, diplomatic and civil society representatives, recalling both the genocide suffered by the nation a century ago and the suffering of Christians around the world today...
Archbishop Chullikatt named Apostolic Nuncio to Kyrgyzstan (Vatican Radio) On Friday, Pope Francis appointed Indian Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt Apostolic Nuncio to Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic in central Asia. Archbishop Chullikatt who is already Apostolic Nuncio to Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, based in Kazakh capital Astana, was the Holy See’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York from 2010 to 2014. Before that, the 63 year old prelate from southern Indian’s Kerala state served as Apostolic Nuncio to Jordan and Iraq...
Holy and Great Council concludes (oca.org) According to a release issued by the Press Office of the Holy and Great Council, His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “expressed his joy for the willing and positive response of the Local Autocephalous Orthodox Churches in attendance. At the same time, he underlined the immense efforts, over many years, by all Autocephalous Churches in preparation of the topics on the Council’s agenda...
Council focuses on relations with other Christians (OrthodoxCouncil.org) On the fifth day of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated by His Grace Bishop George of Siemiatycze of the Church of Poland at the Sacred Patriarchal and Stavropegial Monastery of Gonia. Afterward, the Hierarchs continued their work in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth sessions of the Council. The day’s sessions focused primarily on Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World. His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew encouraged an open and honest dialogue among the Hierarchs, and during the fourteenth session the Hierarchs reviewed proposed changes to the final text submitted by the Primates and individual Hierarchs of the local Orthodox Autocephalous Churches...
Suicide bombers kill five in eastern Lebanon (Associated Press) A group of suicide bombers detonated their explosives’ vests in a northeastern Lebanese village near the border with Syria on Monday, killing five people and wounding at least 15, a Lebanese military official and paramedics said...
Ukrainians leaving Russian Orthodox Church (Newsweek) Russia’s continued meddling in Ukraine is driving Ukrainian citizens out of the Russian Orthodox Church. Instead, they are swelling the ranks of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate...
24 June 2016
A priest in a Dalit village in India leads a prayer service. India is facing new challenges in encouraging vocations to religious life. (photo: John Matthew)
In the Summer 2016 edition of ONE, Jose Kavi writes about how India is facing new challenges in recruiting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. It is a subject he knows intimately, as he reveals below.
How does a former seminarian feel when asked to write about religious vocation and modern challenges? Not so easy, to say the least.
First, he would find most ideas and views very personal, reviving old memories. Second, it would lead him into introspection.
Both happened in my case. I had left the Society of Jesus after spending 10 years in it.
As a child, I had never nurtured a desire to become a religious or a priest. There was no plan for the future, as I knew there is a limit to the dreams of someone born in a poor Syrian Catholic family in the Malabar region of Kerala. However, in my final year of school, I responded to an ad that Mission Home, a minor seminary in Palai, had inserted in a church publication. “Undecided about your future? Come to us.” There could not have been anyone more undecided about the future than I was. The response from Mission Home was to meet a Jesuit priest in Calicut, the nearest town to my house.
Life changed dramatically when I topped the school in the 10th grade public exams in 1971. I forgot about the Mission Home letter. Relatives, friends and neighbors insisted that I join a college. However, no one came forward with financial help, except my parish priest.
He offered to take me and my father to Palai, some 300 kilometers [nearly 200 miles] away from home, where some of our relatives lived. My father had his roots in that central Kerala town. The plan, as my mother suggested, was that I would stay with one of the relatives and study at St. Thomas College of Palai.
Unfortunately, we reached Palai a day after the college closed admissions. The principal, a priest, refused to make an exception for someone who scored at the top of his class. “Rules are rules,” he thundered.
I left the place with my father, feeling dejected and worried. We decided to walk to the relative’s house so that my father could show me places associated with his childhood. He had migrated to Malabar in the 1940’s looking for better prospects.
As we came down a hilltop after visiting Lalam’s new church, I noticed written on a gate: St Joseph’s Mission Home. I told my father about the letter I had received and he said, “Let us go inside.”
We saw a two-story building ahead of us behind a large statue of St Joseph holding the infant Jesus. The place was quiet and we found an old priest with a flowing white beard seated on a chair on the verandah. When we told him about the letter, he asked us to see the rector, a Jesuit priest named Ignatius Vellaringattu. Later, I learned the old priest was Monsignor Jacob Vellaringattu, the rector’s elder brother and founder of Mission Home.
The rector looked at my certificates, opened his table drawer and placed them inside. My father planned to leave me behind. I was not prepared to join a seminary. I was coming out of my village for the first time and wanted to meet my numerous relatives living in central Kerala. The rector gave me two weeks, and then expected me to come back.
We then visited all our relatives in Palai and Idukki area. Everyone was happy that I was joining a seminary, but I had my doubts about my vocation.
With those doubts, I returned to Mission Home. I was told to sit with others in a large hall on the second floor. After some time I got bored. I was never used to such discipline at home. I went to the balcony and watched the trees and flowers that surrounded the building.
Soon, a senior student, looking very serious, came and told me that the monsignor was calling me. Having no clue why I was called, I went to the elderly priest’s room. He scolded me for being undisciplined and threatened to send me home. It took me some time to realize that I had violated a cardinal rule of the place: never waste study time.
The incident took away my home sickness and soon I joined the crowd, obeying all rules and attending prayers. As days passed, it dawned on me that I also could become a priest. Watching some of my companions, I thought: “If he could become one, why can’t I?”
Within five months, I was sent to Patna with five others to join the Jesuits there. Life moved on and I went to novitiate in 1975. In the quietness of that place and during long hours of prayer and reflection, doubts about my vocation returned. The words from the Bible, “Many are called, but few are chosen” rang in my mind. When I shared my doubts with the novice master, he said they could come from the evil spirit, and he asked me to pray earnestly.
But the doubts continued, so at the end of the two-year novitiate I asked for six months to decide about taking vows. When I shared my doubts and anguish with other novices, they said they too had the same problem, but they trusted in the Lord. After six months, I took my first vows and became a full-fledged Jesuit.
Yet, vows did not dispel my doubts and dryness. They became all the more acute during annual retreats. Meanwhile, I spent some months in mission stations before joining a college in Ranchi for English studies.
During the three years at the college, I wrestled with my doubts. I had recurring nightmares in which I was asked to decide my future. I felt insecure to leave the comfortable seminary life.
At the end of college, I was listed for a philosophy course in Pune. I went for a personal retreat directed by a Jesuit priest, a friend. I shared with him my inner struggles and doubts. He then advised me to leave if I really felt that I had no vocation. The longer I linger in the seminary, he warned me, the worse my life would become.
I decided to leave finally, even though it was like a jump into the dark. My spiritual director and provincial tried to dissuade me from leaving. I stood my ground and signed my papers. And peace came into my heart.
That was 34 years ago. Over the years, I have grown to appreciate what my 10 years in seminary had taught me. I have no hesitation to acknowledge that who I am today is entirely because of those formative years. The interesting part is that I have never stopped feeling my Jesuit-ness.
Did I really lose my vocation?
Read more in On a Mission From God in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE.