In late January of this year, myself and Marilyn Neuville (another Cursillista), were part of a small delegation that traveled to Kerala, India with the Archdiocesan Center for Missions. We went to visit the Diocese of Vijayapuram in the city of Kottayam. Vijayapuram is one of four dioceses throughout the world that the Center for Missions helps support. Our purpose was not your typical mission trip of doing something, but one of immersion: to experience and encounter Catholic life there.
Before our trip we were given a journal filled with various scripture verses and quotes to ponder and reflect on. One quote in particular left an impression on all of us. It helped us to approach our trip with a sense of humbleness.
“Our task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy; else we may find ourselves treading on someone’s dreams. More serious still, we may forget that God was there before our arrival.” Max Warren
During our time in India we truly came to feel that we had come to a holy place. In India, Catholics make up less than 2% of the population, but in Kerala almost 20% percent of the population is Catholic. Of the three Catholic rites that are practiced there, the Vijayapuram Diocese is the smallest and poorest. The people are of the lower caste. They rarely can affect political and cultural life, they face discrimination, not so much in the form of violence, but more economic discrimination, as a result, they are very poor, but their faith we discovered is very rich.
One beautiful example of this rich Faith, that we were privileged to witness, happened at the St. Anthony Pilgrim Center. On the first Tuesday of every month they have a “Day of Prayer”. On this day, over 30,000 people come for healing prayer services, confessions, counseling, and Divine Mercy devotions, along with Mass celebrated every two hours from 8 am to 8 pm. The pilgrims come with a desire to experience God. Almost half of those who come are not Christian, but they see the Church as a place of comfort, and for the Church in Vijayapuram, it’s an opportunity to serve the people and be a witness for the power of Christ’s love and compassion. It was truly a beautiful encounter of the work of the Holy Spirit.
In 1990, the diocese established Basic Christian Communities (BCC’s) in all of their 84 parishes. This model is patterned after the early Church to promote community. The early Church lived out their faith as a minority and drew strength
from their small communities. Similarly, the people in the diocese of Vijayapurum also live out their faith as a minority, and they draw strength from within these small Christian communities. Families in a parish are divided up into groups for 15-25 families. These groups gather together regularly in the homes for fellowship, prayer, singing, study, discussion, works of charity and agapa (eating together). Through BCC life people get to know, love and care for one another. Through our visits to the BCC’s I couldn’t help but see the spirit of the Cursillo movement in these gatherings. They were truly inspiring.
At each BCC meeting they take attendance. If someone is not there they ask, “Has someone seen them lately?” If not, they ask, “Who will go and check on them?” Isn’t that a beautiful witness of Christian love and concern?! Wouldn’t we all want someone to check on us, but we also need to be the ones to check on others.
At our first BCC gathering the sense of God’s Presence could be felt in the room. Peace and joy radiated on the faces of the people as they welcomed us with great hospitality and love. We had a beautiful time of sharing from the heart, as though we had known them for a long time. Then they prayed over us. It was our first encounter of the Charismatic Church of India! We were asked to share with them a song. We chose “Holy Ground” and from that moment on, that song best expressed what our hearts were beginning to experience and would continue to experience throughout our time there - that God was present and where He is, is Holy.
We had so many amazing experiences that I’d need a lot more space to share them all! If they send another delegation to India my hope is that through reading this reflection many of you would consider going. You will love it!