Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holy Family Joy - Happy Christmas!

Holy Family Church, all dressed up
for Christmas.
"Merry, Merry, Happy Christmas!" writes Fr. Varghese Kalapurakudy, Pastor of Holy Family Mission in Yeleswaram, India. The days preceding and including Christmas day 2013 were "very marvelous and wonderful" at his mission.

An astonishing 95% of parishioners made their confessions before Christmas. Fr. Varghese also helped faithful focus on "worship, Mass practice, carol singing, choir, wishing each other, sharing the gifts, etc...exchanging the peace."

Faithful came to construct nativity scenes on the mission compound, and one was chosen to be the "official" nativity for Holy Family Mission.

The night vigil was beautiful, although a regional power grid failure had Fr. Varghese scurrying to rent a diesel generator so the mission lights could shine. That night, gifts from mission friends allowed Fr. Varghese to distribute 223 wool blankets to his people, who traveled in for the Mass from five scattered villages.

The evening ended with a sharing of biscuits and plantains, although mission funds were too tight for Fr. Varghese to offer people rolls and tea like he did last year.

On December 23, teams of faithful came
to mission grounds to construct creative nativities.
As a special Christmas surprise, a local politician offered 25 saris for widows. These were distributed after Christmas morning Mass. The celebration continued, with "cultural programs depicting the social issues and love of Christ."

Christmas Masses were held outdoors under a tent, since Holy Family Church is too tiny to host the 1,000-plus people who attend. This year, locals who were Hindu and of other denominations came to join their Catholic neighbors at the beautiful, solemn Mass.

Fr. Varghese offered up his Christmas Mass for friends of his mission. He also keeps a list of his special supporters in his breviary, and he prays for their needs daily. 

He does have a couple of very practical wishes as the year draws to a close. Fr. Varghese needs to pay off the bill for renting the generator for Christmas. The bill is due December 31st. He says he is also "praying I will be able to give a tea for my people" after the  New Year vigil Mass, which celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.

Use the buttons at right to contribute to Holy Family Mission in a quick, easy, and secure way.  And please continue to enfold Fr. Varghese and his five scattered mission outposts in prayer.

God bless you, and Happy Christmas!

Amidst all the beautiful crib scenes, this one was chosen
as the official nativity of Holy Family Mission.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

May Christ be Our Light!

Christ our Light is coming! Up and out at 4:30 AM for nine days before Christmas, Fr. Varghese and his people held candles and processed through village streets and countryside. 
They proclaimed Christ's coming through carols, Scripture readings and Rosaries. In this 98% Hindu area, neighbors of all faiths greeted Fr. Varghese and his people with gifts of coconuts and rice. 
After this Deepharadhana  "worship with lights" each morning, the people returned to Holy Family Mission for 6:30 AM Mass. Fr. Varghese had encouraged all his people to attend daily Mass during Advent. By the end of Advent, 400 people were coming! 
May Christ be our Light!

Monday, December 23, 2013

December 8th Pilgrimage to Mary Matha

Photo Courtesy of TripAdvisor.
Destination: Mary Matha Church on Ross Hill.
Holy Family pilgrims set out in pre-dawn darkness.
Visakhapatnam features three surrounding hills, topped by a Hindu temple, Islamic mosque and a Catholic pilgrimage site with church, grottos, Stations of the Cross and retreat center.

A 5 AM train ride started the day for Holy Family Mission faithful on the December 8th, 2013 Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pastor Fr. Varghese Kalapurakudy guided 50 villagers to Visakhapatnam, his diocesan see.

Public transportation wasn't operating for days leading up to the pilgrimage, due to strikes and protests regarding the division of Andhra Pradesh State and the forming of the new state, Telengana. But protesters took a Sunday rest, allowing Holy Family faithful their trip. Pilgrims headed to the Church of the Virgin Mary, atop the central and highest hill, Ross Hill. The 150-year-old Catholic church was built as a private residence, and later blessed as a church.

Some went to great heights to get comfortable
on the crowded train.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit Ross Hill Shrine yearly, seeking blessings and protection from Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. On her feast day, pilgrims come for a special procession, shown here. Even those of various religious beliefs come to pray and seek peace.

For 18 years, this shrine has also conducted a Rosary Chain Prayer, inviting faithful world-wide to commit to a time to pray the Rosary and to send the time via email or phone call. This encourages devotion to the Rosary, and also encircles the globe with a continuous chain of Rosaries prayed for peace and the conversion of sinners.

The Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS), Province of Visakhapatnam, oversee the shrine. Atop the hill are excellent views of Visakhapatnam (also called Vizag), the Esser Steel Plant, the ship building yard, and the Bay of Bengal with its impressive ships.

This gentleman wears a wool "monkey hat"
to keep off the early morning chill.
Many on the pilgrimage were ladies of Holy Family Mission's Mariadalem Sodality, a group devoted to the Blessed Mother. As they labored so hard to prepare mission grounds for the coming of their archbishop for Confessions in June, Fr. Varghese had promised to bring them on pilgrimage. The people are grateful Our Lady is a strong intercessor for them and their mission.
Directions at the station are written
in the local language of Telegu.

It's unusual for these day laborers to travel far from their villages, so they had extra reason to rejoice on December 8th, as they drew closer to the Blessed Mother and her Son.

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Pray for Us!

A pilgrimage helps faithful of all ages
draw closer to each other and God.
The pilgrimage site lay nearly 100 miles Northeast 
of Yeleswaram, home of Holy Family Mission. 

Crowds disembark at Vizag.

Seeking alms, a boy poses as a statue of Gandhi.

Some of the pathways are dusty, but the view atop
Ross Hill is worth the hike.

"Hail Mary, full of grace..."

Pilgrims take a steep climb up Ross Hill. The path
is lined with shrines depicting the Stations of the Cross.

Some pilgrims have their heads shaved as a special
sacrifice to God and to proclaim that He has
answered their prayers through the intercession

of His Blessed Mother.

Pilgrims gather for an outdoor Mass. At right is the
center used for hosting Visakhapatnam Diocese's
retreats for priests.

Trees at the Shrine are strung with lights
for Christmas.
A break for lunch...

An old postcard shows the view from Ross Hill
of Vizag and its harbor.
The blue structure is the iron ore belt of the
Esser Steel Plant.
Serving briyani rice to pilgrims atop Ross Hill.
On the way back down, four pilgrims got
disconnected from the group and Fr. Varghese
climbed back up the hill to locate them.

Holy Family pilgrims gather at a Marian grotto near 
the Church of the Virgin Mary on Ross Hill.