Sunday, February 16, 2014

Praise Him with Song and Dance

"Sing to the Lord a new song...Let them praise his name in the festive dance, let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp. For the Lord loves his people, and he adorns the lowly with victory." Ps. 149:1-4

Holy Family Mission became a hub of singing and dancing to the Lord in mid-January. From the 13-15th each year, Hindus in nearly 97% Hindu India celebrate a harvest feast tied in with the zodiac and honoring their sun god. Businesses close, buses and trains overflow with travelers returning to families.

At Holy Family, those three days off of school and work provided a great opportunity this year to gather youth for a special camp. 

A group of 35 young people joined Fr. Varghese in going door to door and collecting rice and dal (lentils) so meals could be served during the camp.

"We collected 35 kg of rice and 12 kg dal," enthused Fr. Varghese. " But when that amount fell short of what was needed, the missionary sent out a final appeal for vegetables. "Villagers brought their own cultivation."

As opening day approached, the young people were "very energetic and enthusiastic," said the priest. 

Never before had youth in this community of Dalits (Untouchables) attended anything like it -- a chance to worship God together through song, dance and drama as taught by masters of Kolatam and Bharatanatyam from the Archdiocese of Rajamundry and town of Yeleswaram. 
A teacher leading his little class.
Holy Family became the first parish in the Diocese of Visakhapatnam where children would learn Kolatam, a traditional form of dance performed in villages with percussive instruments, and Bharatanatyam, classical Indian dance. Whereas many popular forms of dance in the West are secular and far from spiritual, these Indian forms of dance praise and worship God through both rhythm and graceful, stylized motions. Learning these art forms would allow the young people to use song, dance and drama to express their love of God at village festivals and processions, and at parish events. 

The three days of camp with its theme of "Go, Grow and Glow," were a breath of fresh air for mission children, whose families toil as day-laborers just to survive.

Dance class at the mission door.
The opening of the camp was delayed by what people jokingly call "Indian time." In India, over-jammed public transportation often causes delays. 

"I expected the trainers to be here but they were not able to get the train because of the heavy rush," explained Fr. Varghese. "People are traveling like anything from Hyderabad to Vizag (Visakhapatnam) we missed the first session."

The trainers arrived by midnight and officially opened the camp next morning, for more than 100 children. Fr. Varghese began the camp with prayer, and gave talks about living the Faith throughout the sessions.

Salesian nuns who run an English Medium school in Yeleswaram also attended. Their school serves a student body that is 10% Catholic, with the rest of the students Hindu, Muslim and other faiths.

Boys and girls of all ages learned to dance and make
rhythms with the folk instrument called the Kanchara.
The Kanchara can be tricky to learn, but Fr. 
Varghese said a number of the children
picked it up very well.

Preparing "plates" for a meal...

Mealtime drew many hungry to the mission. "We cooked for 230 yesterday," said Fr. Varghese, "but by meal time many hungry stepped inside the compound so again we cooked. "
Cooking a meal outside Fr. Varghese's presbytery.
A team of helpers kept camp-goers fed.

Washing up at the mission bore well.

Some showed real talent with the kanchara.

Faith lessons made the camp a well-rounded
At camp's end, certain children showed real interest and ability in expressing their faith through these reverential arts. A group began meeting at the mission daily before school to practice Kolatam. They praised God in dance for their mission before Eucharistic Adoration began for First Friday in February.

"I am happy at least three days my children will be happy and they will be in the hands of the Lord," Fr. Varghese wrote before the camp began.

These children have had much to bear over this past year, with cyclones bringing 90% crop loss to the area and political tensions over statehood issues continuing to cause strikes, unemployment, power outages and unrest. Friends who helped meet camp costs such as renting the tent can rejoice. This first-ever enterprise was a success. Many dozens of children gathered and ushered in their new year by singing and dancing for the Lord.
A graceful finale to the camp.

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