In mid-January the joy of visiting the family of a fellow Holy Cross priest from Kerala, India, Father Pinto Paul, C.S.C., was finally mine. Joy describes the visit because for several years I have been wondering what sort of people produced so many vocations to the consecrated life and priesthood. The Holy Cross men from Kerala are impressive for their faith, missionary zeal, simplicity of life, and joyful spirits. I like to refer to Kerala as “The Ireland of India” because of their love of the Church and its mission.
This visit came after a business meeting in Bangalore, India, and followed the sudden death of Father Pinto’s elder brother a week before our arrival. The day we arrived I was a bit apprehensive that this might not be the best time to visit since the family would be in mourning for James Paul. However, the welcome we received, the ample delicious meals, and the gathering of family members from far and near soon dispelled my apprehensions. The first night, after an amazing dinner, the many family members crowded into the living room surrounding the enthroned image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Most of the prayers were said and sung in Malayalam, a language even more mysterious to me than Greek. But I knew we were praying the Angelus, the Holy Rosary, chanted, the Litany of Loretto, and reading from Scripture. This whole blessed evening was so natural and inviting that there was great joy even in the midst of the recent loss of a beloved son, brother, husband and father. I retired that first night, to the best room in the house, filled with peace and eagerness to explore even more of the families of Kerala.
On Saturday we participated in the Engagement of a relative, before a packed Church followed by a feast that would outdo most wedding receptions in the States. The engagement ceremony before three priests, many altar servers and two-extended families was conducted in Syro-Malabar, and lasted longer than most weddings I have attended. Sunday we celebrated Mass in Syro-Malabar and ancient rite of worship that goes back to the Apostle Thomas and is in full communion with Rome. The liturgical celebrations were beautiful and filled with chants and active participation by the congregation of worshipers. The sights, the sounds the prayers the music and the joy in these liturgies were inspiring and beautiful.
In Kerala, you must visit not just one home but all the homes of relatives, and in our case, the homes of parents of other Holy Cross community members. Much of our time was spent going from house to house, trying to sample one more delicacy and drink one more fruit juice to be courteous. To me the most memorable and striking feature in every home we visited was the enthroned image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus displayed prominently at the main entrance to the house. Often there was also the Immaculate Heart of Mary and to one side pictures of deceased grandparents and other relatives. The visit ended all too quickly.
I will never forget the amazing place called Kerala and the faith, hospitality, and joy of its people. I understand fully why so many good religious men and women, as well as faithful families have flourished in and from Kerala, which some call the country of God.
Copyright 2018 Fr. Willy Raymond, C.S.C.