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?