Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A missionary trek toward China

Fr. Varghese traveled and shared stories about mission life, 
visiting the Bongaigaon Diocese and far north to China.
Floods and Telengana statehood tensions marked July in Andhra Pradesh, but in August, Fr. Varghese and fellow missionary Fr. Sivvam Bhaskar answered a bishop's call to visit his northeast diocese in Assam. It was hard to arrange the trip, with roads closed and bus transportation to rail stations down due to the "bandh" (strikes) in the region. Two days before the trip, an elderly priest at Fr. Bhaskar's mission in the remote jungle fell and fractured both his wrists. Fr. Bhaskar nearly stayed behind, but once the elder priest was established in the hospital and care arranged, the younger priest continued on his journey, making final arrangements just hours before departure. Fr. Varghese's reflections about their trip are adapted from his post in the blog Faithful Earth and from personal letters:
Photo by Smeet Chowdhury, Creative Commons license/Wikipedia
The missionaries rode the Bangalore-Guwahati
northeast to Assam in India. 
We had a very tough journey. Indian railways are the most hopeless in the world. No cleanliness. Our seats were near the lavaratory, and the smell disturbed us. Some three days' journey, no break, heavy rush made us hard on our way. In spite of all our struggle, we reached our destination and walked around 30 kilometers of interior forest mission and gave the love of Christ.

Fruit offered by faithful during the Presentation of the Gifts at
Mass line the altar. Such offerings provide for missionaries
and the needy.
The bishop of northeastern diocese called Bongaigaon, Bishop Thomas Pullopillil, invited me to give witness and narrate my mission experience and how I am bringing up children into Christianity. He had visited one day my parish, and had called me to this event. 

A mural at the Catholic Cathedral of Christ Light
of the 
World in Bongaigaon Diocese reflects dress and 
customs of local tribal people.
Bongaigaon Diocese was established during the
Jubilee Year 2000.

Bishop Pullopullil's diocese is in the state called Assam, along the border of Bhutan, China and Nepal. I went through villages to learn their culture for my mission work. Each village has different tribes. As we see in America, with blacks and whites, people here divide on the basis of their dress code, food code, language, region, etc. Most of them are illiterate. Generally, they are good people -- very loving, although they can also be very fierce. Most carry knives. Some, in a militant group carry guns. The mission area is called Bodoland. Along with the Bishop we traveled to Bojo and Tin-su-kia. There is a lack of priests all over the world, especially in missions. So I gave orientation talks to boys and girls all over the missions.

Hope for the future. Boys study at Assam Minor Seminary.

At the seminary, a colorful portrayal of salvation history.
All the priests serving across this region are from Kerala. Now they have Assam Minor Seminary and many local boys are learning to become priests.

In Assam State, sometimes floods occur because of heavy rain. So people build houses on pillars and cover with tin sheets.

Statehood protests can make travel tense and difficult.
Along the border of Bhutan, people don't celebrate India's Independence Day because they want to become a separate state. People along the Bhutan border are silent, afraid of groups of violence-makers. After 6 PM, no villagers will come out from the houses. No shops, no buses and other transportation. In Bhutan, the official religion is Buddhism. We are not allowed for public worship, so they worship in rented houses, and priests dress [so as not to be noticed] and go to celebrate Mass. Priests are rare, so when people saw us, they were pleading "Please give one of these priests to us."

Frs. Varghese and Bhaskar needed escorts into 
remote villages to avoid being sacrificed to local deities.

Border crossing into Bhutan.

After Mass in Bhutan we went back to Arunachal Pradesh, along the border of China. The boarding school children here are very poor. Every day they eat rice and a lime piece, and put in salt. They are very hardworking and loving, but there is no local vocation. It [the Faith there] is just fresh. Some places, tribals kill the non-locals and pour the blood for the tribal deity. So we were not allowed to go alone in the villages.
Boarding school children survive largely on 
white rice.
Our journey towards China was very dangerous. We did not enter China due to security reasons. There was tension between Indian and Chinese armies. In spite of that, considering that we are priests, they allowed us to see some places along the India-Chinese border. China has got a very rich culture, tradition and religiosity. We had an opportunity to interact with Chinese children and they were happy to hear from the Indian missions. The famous border of Shin Hui we entered and our Catholic hostel and church was blessed with 68 faithful.

Where the trip began, with Bishop Pullopillil
in Bongaigaon Diocese.
Dancing a special welcome.

At Bongaigaon Diocese cathedral school. Fr. Varghese is 
back row, center right, Fr. Bhaskar is to his left.

In a letter after his return to Holy Family Mission, Fr. Varghese wrote that the Bishop had been kind and attentive, meeting with him personally to discuss ideas to uplift Fr. Varghese's needy. The missionary returned home feeling energized and inspired, and even more courageous to "live and die for Christ."

Thank God for our faithful missionaries and all who encourage them!

1 comment:

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