Remembering Bishop’s “Study Tour” to India

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by Fr. Philip Pazhayakari, CMI, Pastor, Sacred Heart Parish, Rayville & St. Theresa Church, Delhi

While planning a visit to India, our bishop clearly mentioned to me that his intention was not primarily a pleasure trip or a sight-seeing trip. His intention was to make a “study tour” to India to have a firsthand glimpse of the Catholic faith in India and to have a birds’ eye view of the activities of the Order of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI) and of the Oriental Church (Syro-Malabar Church) founded and nourished by the blood of St. Thomas the Apostle, whose place of martyrdom and tomb are still preserved and duly venerated in India. He wanted to visit and pray at the Shrines of the new Indian saints: St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara and St. Alphonsa of Bharananganam.

I do not know why our bishop selected me to accompany him as a guide. I love and appreciate his confidence in me. He had only 12 days to spare for the visit. I planned the details of the tour, not as a guide, but as a guardian – or rather a “guardian angel” – during his journey to a new world. Here is a travelogue of our trip.

Bishop Michael Duca and Fr. Philip Pazhayakari, CMI, his guide and guardian on their trip to India.

11.27.16 – Sunday: We landed at Trivandrum (TVM) at 3.20 a.m. local time. Fr. Thomas Elavunkal was at the airport to fetch us to the CMI Provincial House, TVM. Fr. Thomas worked in the Diocese of Shreveport. There are currently 10 CMI priests working in the Diocese of Shreveport, and practically all of them have been members of the CMI Province TVM.

That day, we visited our prestigious Christ Nagar educational center at Thiruvallam. It is an educational complex with a Senior and a Junior Secondary School, a College of Education and Chavara Institute of Educational Research and Training. It provides instructions to about 4,000 students.

Our next destination was the famous Christ Nagar Higher Secondary School in Trivandrum where the CMI Fathers extended a hearty welcome to our Bishop. Christ Nagar is also an educational complex providing instruction to about 3,000 students. It is under the supervision of the Superior of the monastery known as Christ Hall. Christ Hall was established in 1946, the earliest institution in south Kerala to cater to the needs of the Christians migrating towards the south.

After dinner, we headed towards the next State and reached our CMI House in Kannyakumari.

Bishop Duca at one of the CMI schools, Christ Nagar School, Thiruvallam

11.28.16 – Kannyakumari or Cape Comorin (its old name) is the southern tip of peninsular India where the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea join, the meeting point of three oceans. One of the important attractions at the beach is the Alankara Matha church dedicated to Mother Mary where thousands of devotees come and pray. After the beach, we went to the local bishop’s house where Bishop Rejendran extended a hearty welcome to us.

From the bishop’s house we went to the Carmelite Sisters’ (CMC) provincial house where we had lunch with Provincial Sr. Viji and the other sisters of the convent. We visited the nearby local shrine of a martyr, a Hindu convert to Catholicism, Blessed Deva Sahayam Pillai.

11.29.16 – Tuesday: We left for the next destination in Kochi, our Prior General’s House at Kakkanad. On the way we visited a High School for the deaf and mute at Eanath where Fr. Jose Kadavil CMI looks after about 100 deaf and mute boys. By 6:30 p.m. we reached our Prior General’s house at Kakkanad, and our Prior General, Fr. Paul Achandy, and the other priests of the house gave us a warm welcome.

Fr. Philip and Bishop Duca with the Sisters of the Destitute.

11.30.16 – Wednesday: We left for the nearby Sisters of the Destitute Generalate for Mass. We now have three of these sisters working at CHRISTUS Highland hospital in Shreveport. Bishop Duca celebrated Mass in their chapel with all the sisters of the institute and visited an old age home run by the sisters.

By 10:45 a.m., we left for Kochi. On the way we visited the famous St. George Basilica at Edapally, where thousands rush for regular novenas and prayer. We then went to the Punnapra Polytechnic run by CMI Fathers where my nephew,
Fr. Jacob Purakary, is a professor.

12.1.16: Thursday: This was the only day set aside for some rest, relaxation and sight-seeing. We started our trip in a house boat through Alapuzha backwaters. Frs. Biju Palamattam and Paul Thunduparampil took the lead for our day of rest and relaxation. After the boat trip, we went to the Chavara Shrine, the birth place of St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, the Founder of the CMI Order.

A scene from the welcome dance at the school.

12.2.16 – Friday: We visited the CMI Monastery at Chethipuzha where Fr. Zacharias Prakuzhay, who was a pastor in Lake Providence, LA, resides. Lunch was at Fr. Philip’s house where a non-meat Friday meal was served, Friday being a day of abstinence from meat in the Oriental Church.

Grand Welcome to the Bishop at K. E. School: After lunch we went to the Kuriakose Elias Higher Secondary School where the principal, Fr. James Mullassery, arranged a grand welcome for our bishop. Bishop Duca was led to the assembly hall escorted by a band display of the students that Bishop Duca very heartily enjoyed and commended a number of times with joy and enthusiasm, even after his return to the U.S. Kuriakose Elias School is a very prestigious institution of the locality where more than 2,600 students are given Catholic oriented education and training. This school was started by me in 1991.

We then visited the Deepika Daily Newspaper complex started by the CMI Order. The Deepika is the only Catholic Daily in India.

Our next destination was Vadavathoor diocesan major seminary which is the second largest major seminary in the state to train diocesan priests for Kerala.

12.3.16 – Saturday: We left the seminary to say Mass at St. Kuriakose Elias Shrine at Mannanam, where St. Kuariakose Elias was buried and his holy remains are venerated with special devotions on Saturdays. Our bishop prayed at the Tomb of St. Kuriakose Elias before the Mass. I am sure, he was surprised to see the vestments for Mass in the Oriental Liturgy. Bishop Duca was the main celebrant for the Mass, assisted by the prior. The church was full with more than 500 people.

Bishop visited the Chavara museum and then the Malayalam medium Higher Secondary School and Kuriakose Elias College. Our next visit was at Bharnanganam, where
St. Alponsa was buried and her holy remains are venerated.

With more than 1,000 children after the Mass in Eastern Rite.

12.4.16 – Sunday: After breakfast we moved to the Cathedral for a Mass for the CCD students of the parish, where Bishop was the main celebrant for the Eastern Rite Mass. A group of about 1,000 students attended with loud responses through their young and vibrant vocal chords.

Bishop’s extraordinary quality of adjusting himself to any situation is great and is appreciated with awe and admiration. Many priests and the people were wondering how he could wear a 10 to 15 pound oriental chasuble (kappa) for Mass that could take about one and a half hours. His endurance was great and very commendable, especially when we realized that the church was not air conditioned, the people kneel on the floor, and most of them enter the church bare-footed. There was absolutely no expression of displeasure or uneasiness from him. Many exclaimed: “What a great American Bishop he is!”

Then we visited some of the Agricultural Centers (PDS) at the High Ranges of Kerala run by the Diocese of Kanjirapally.

12.5.16 – Monday: The local Bishop Mathew Arackal, who was out of town, arrived quite early that morning to bid farewell to Bishop Duca. We left the Pastoral Center for the Kochi airport to take the last leg of our visits at Bangalore.

Dharmaram College is the most important major seminary of the CMI order started in 1957. I am lucky to have been a student of the college from its beginning until my ordination in 1962. Bishop gave an excellent talk to the 350 seminarians in the Seminary auditorium and had dinner with the community.

At the Arts Festival of Christ University, Bangalore

12.6.16 – Tuesday: This was his last day of this phase of his visit to India. Bishop celebrated Mass in Latin for the students of the seminary. After breakfast, he toured the Dharmaram complex that ended at the Christ University on the campus. We had lunch at the University with its Vice Chancellor, Fr. Thomas Chathamparampil and other CMI priests of the teaching faculties. Fr Lijo Thomas, who was the pastor in Bastrop, LA, is now a member of the teaching faculty of the Christ University Bangalore.

At 3:30 p.m. Rector Fr. Thomas Aykara was present to bid good-bye to our bishop as he was leaving for the Bangalore international airport for his return journey to Dallas via Dubai.

How great thou art: I was lucky to accompany our bishop to India from Dallas to the airport in Bangalore. What a great personality Bishop Duca is! A man of great and wonderful adjustments to every culture, people – old and young! Everyone throughout our visit loved him and appreciated his modest and humble personality. He appreciated any type of food that was served to him. Never did he have a complaint or wry face at any moment of our journey through various cultures and people.

My niece, who is a teacher to the little ones, told me, “Your bishop is simple and humble down to the earth. He speaks lovely English, articulating every syllable that we, all of us, could understand. A man of great flexibility and simplicity! He appreciates everyone who comes in contact with him, accepting everybody, irrespective of caste, race, religion or age with the love of God.”

My heart breaks as I think of him leaving us, but as he mentioned, it is the will of God. All my parishioners have the same response and send their love and appreciation to him.

May the light and love of God be ever bright and shining throughout his pursuit in proclaiming the Kingdom of God!  •

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