25 July 2007

Update from India

Br. John Antony and I are into the fourth week of our visitations of the Vice Province of Andhra Pradesh-Orissa, the Vice Province of Pavanathma and the Province of St. Joseph-Kerala, where we are currently working. It has been a fascinating experience for me. The culture and social situation of India is so different from that of the United States so it has been interesting to see how the Capuchins in India have adapted the charism to their situation.

Kerala is home to the oldest Christian community in India, which is said to have been founded by St. Thomas the Apostle. The Church is very developed here. Both dioceses and religious congregations have been running educational institutions here for a long time. The schools are recognized by Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike as being among the best in the country. Because of this commitment, Kerala has the highest rate of literacy among all the states in India. The Church also has many hospitals, clinics and social service centers in Kerala. Today, you will find nurses from Kerala working in hospitals all over the world.

The Capuchins in Kerala directly or indirectly administer a few elementary schools in Kerala, especially in the north. For the most part, however, this sector is already well covered by other congregations. Due to the large number of vocations coming from Kerala, both for religious orders and the diocesan priesthood, Capuchins are only rarely needed to work in parishes. In some dioceses, in fact, bishops are reluctant to assign any parishes to religious congregations. As a result, Capuchins in Kerala work mostly in the area of evangelization. Preaching parish missions occupies many of the friars. This provides a lot of exposure to the friars, which is one of the reasons they are so successful in promoting vocations. The Province also has many missionaries working throughout the world.

The area of northern Kerala, where the Vice Province of Pavanathma is located, was opened for settlement only a few decades ago. Many people from southern Kerala moved there in order to buy land. As a result, though there are many Catholics there, the Church is less developed. Religious orders, therefore, are more likely to be asked to undertake parish ministry. The Capuchins there have a few parishes, but they are also heavily involved in ministry to the poorest of the poor. I was very impressed by the homes for destitute men and women, the AIDS hospice and the orphanage that they administer.

The Church in Andhra Pradesh, as a whole, is also less developed than in southern Kerala. There, schools are still in great demand. Accordingly, the friars currently administer two elementary schools, which are attached to their parishes. They also have care of several other parishes in the state. Very early in the history of the Capuchin mission in Andhra Pradesh-Orissa, the Province of St. Joseph-Kerala began a seminary at the request of the local bishop. This institute of philosophy and theology now has over 300 students from several dioceses and religious congregations of men and women. Though it is a young jurisdiction, the Vice Province of Andhra Pradesh-Orissa is growing quickly.

01 July 2007

A visit to India

On July 2nd, I leave for a month-long visit to the Vice Provinces of Andhra Pradesh-Orissa and Pavanathma, and the Province of Kerala-St. Joseph. This will be only my second time in India; the first was over ten years ago. Those ten years have been a time of great change in India so it will be interesting to compare the two experiences. I must admit to being a little apprehensive about the trip—foreign foods and customs aren't as exciting to me as they once were. On the other hand, the hospitality of the Indian brothers is legendary so I do not expect any major problems.

With over 1300 friars and a high rate of growth, India has become an important source of growth and vitality for the Order. Indian provinces have not only opened presences in new areas of India and begun new missions in Africa, but are supplying missionaries to many already-established missions and even to some long-existing provinces. That alone makes it in interesting place to visit.

I also have a special interest in India because it is one of the countries of the world where the Order has been less successful in attracting candidates to the non-cleric state. (I purposely use the term "non-cleric" here rather than "lay" because it is the preferred term in India. That is the subject for another post.) There have been many reasons given for this situation—it is a culture that values education and status, for instance—but there are many cultures that value education and still regularly receive candidates who choose to be non-clerics. I would like to understand what is different about India in this regard.

I do not mean this as a criticism of the Indian friars. If after careful discernment one feels called to the priesthood, who am I to say that they made a bad choice? Furthermore, the non-cleric brothers from India that I have known have all been wonderful friars. In a sense, it does not even matter whether a friar is a priest or a non-cleric since we all have the same vocation. On the other hand, I believe that the existence of non-cleric brothers is essential to the spirit of the Order. When the non-cleric element of our charism is proportionally small in one of the largest and fastest-growing countries of the Order, I become concerned.

Or am I overreacting?