REPORT FROM INDIA
"The Hearts of two of the Greatest Saints, St. Thomas the Apostle and St. Francis Xavier, the greatest Missionary of Modern Times, bent with love and tender concern toward the people of India."
India is a democratic republic made up of twenty-five states. It is situated on the seventh largest land-mass in the world.
It is a country of many languages and cultures and there has long been a tendency for people there to identify themselves more by the language they speak or region they live in than by the term "Indian."
India's state boundaries are drawn largely along linguistic lines and the constitution recognizes 14 regional languages in addition to Hindi and English. English, though spoken exclusively by only three percent of the population, remains all-important in government, education and science.
India is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. The adherents of Hinduism constitute about 83 percent of the population. Another 11 percent are followers of Islam, making India one of the four largest Muslim nations in the world. Christian and Sikhs each make up about two percent of the population and the Jains and Buddhists less than one percent.
There are more Catholics in India than there are people in Canada. At last count, about 25 MILLION Catholics live across the sub-continent. While this may sound like a huge number, it is important to remember that the nation's estimated population (as of mid-1992) is over 886,000,000. India is the second most populous nation in the world after China.
Based on the percentages mentioned above, it is obvious that the need for Catholic evangelical work is all-important. Any project that helps to establish an authentic Catholic presence in this predominantly pagan land is of great value.
Indeed, this knowledge may well have been on Archbishop Arulappa's mind when he wrote of his belief "the Immaculate Heart of Mary Orphanage will be a tremendous boon for these children and for the entire diocesan community. I believe it will, in time, become a great spiritual center, for the growth and development of strong Catholic men and women, who, in turn, will inspire others with their faith."
In saying this, the Archbishop not only has his eyes on the future, but on the past as well for Catholic missionary activity has deep historic roots.
"Blessed Are They Who Have Not Seen
and Yet Believed"
Six years after Christopher Columbus discovered the New World and nineteen years before the Protestant revolt, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived in India. The year was 1498 and da Gama, to his great astonishment, found more than 200,000 Christians in Calcutta. When questioned about their faith, they responded that they were "Christians of St. Thomas." To this day, most people remain unaware that Christianity has been in India since Apostolic times.
The same skeptical hand that touched the sacred wounds of Our Lord's body became the same confident hand that baptized thousands of eager converts.
Historical research backed with tradition confirms that St. Thomas the Apostle came to India in AD 52. According to the Catholic writer, Victor Kundalay, there is ample evidence to prove that St. Bartholomew the Apostle was also in India, spreading the Gospel in the area which is now the Archdiocese of Bombay.
According to tradition, hallowed by time and strongly held by Christians of Kerala, St. Thomas, after visiting Socotra, an island in the Arabian Sea, landed near Cranganore on the Periar estuary, north of Cochin in 52 AD. He preached the Gospel and converted many people to Christianity. Later, he travelled farther south and converted many more. The same skeptical hand that touched the sacred wounds on Our Lord's body, demanding physical reassurance of the Resurrection, became the same confident hand that baptized thousands of eager converts in ancient India into the Holy Catholic Faith. It is obvious that "doubting Thomas" had long since before stopped doubting.
Among those who embraced Christianity were several Namoodri Brahmin families considered among Hindus as the highest class. St. Thomas ordained priests from four of these families and founded churches in seven Indian cities.
From the west coast, he proceeded to the east and farther, to Malacca and China. He is believed to have returned sometime to Madras. There, his preaching aroused intense hostility among the Brahmin and he was martyred on July 3, 72 AD. He met his end on a hill that now bears his name, St. Thomas' Mount, eight miles from the city of Madras. He was buried at a place called Mylapore in Madras and, over his tomb, the Basilica of Saint Thomas now stands.
The Fatima Crusader office in Madras is just two blocks away from St. Thomas' tomb.
Throughout the centuries that followed, pilgrims came from far-and-near to venerate St. Thomas' tomb in Mylapore. In AD 883, Anglo-Saxon chronicles record that King Alfred the Great sent two ambassadors to India with offerings specifically for the tomb of St. Thomas. Four hundred years later, the great explorer Marco Polo visited and worshipped at the Shrine.
With the capture of Goa by the Portuguese in the early 16th Century, Catholic evangelical work began in earnest. King John III of Portugal was more keen on winning souls for Christ than conquering new territory and it seems fitting that it was Portugal, the land of Our Lady of Fatima, that took the lead in bringing the Catholic Faith to millions of souls across India.
|Father Gruner in India at Our Lady of Fatima Altar in Bombay.|
"The Apostle of the Indies"
On March 26, 1540, St. Francis Xavier, one of the seven original members of the Society of Jesus and a close confidant of St. Ignatius Loyola, took leave of his companions in Rome and set out for the court of King John III in Lisbon. John had invited the Jesuits to preach the Gospel throughout the Portuguese territories on the west coast of India.
Soon afterwards, St. Francis Xavier travelled to Mylapore and stayed there four months, praying at the tomb of St. Thomas for guidance in his evangelical work. The challenges were many and the problems he faced almost monumental. Satan's attacks on his body and soul were constant and he fervently sought the protection and aid of Our Lady of Mylapore. Tradition has it that Our Lady personally consoled and encouraged St. Francis to persist in his undertaking. The beautiful 400-year-old statue of Our Lady in the Basilica of St. Thomas is venerated to this day by thousands who flock there daily to invoke the blessings of this miraculous Mother.
Francis Xavier was blessed with that rare gift of winning multitudes to the Faith by persuasive preaching and by pious example. On January 15, 1544, he wrote to Ignatius: "Often my arms are weary from baptizing and I cannot speak another word without having so repeatedly recited the prayers to the people, one after another, and given instructions in Christian duties in their native language."
St. Francis reported to Rome that, in a single month, he had baptized more than 10,000 people.
For his heroic efforts on behalf of the Faith, he was rewarded by being appointed Papal Nuncio in these distant mission lands. In the following year, on January 27, he reported in a letter to Rome that, in a single month, he had baptized more than 10,000 people. St. Francis Xavier died while on a trip to China in 1552, but his remains were returned to his beloved India where they remain enshrined in the great cathedral at Goa. The tombs of the two great saints who evangelized India, St. Thomas and St. Francis Xavier, continue to attract tens of thousands of pilgrims each year.
At the opening of Our Lady's Orphanage recently, one Fatima Crusader worker remarked: "We, who are members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church would do well to remember that the hearts of two of our greatest saints, St. Thomas and St. Francis Xavier, beat with love and tender concern toward the people of India."
Any Westerner who sojourns in India will certainly agree that this saintly concern is amply justified. All who have visited there speak with one voice of the stunning poverty and desolation encountered everywhere.
Abysmal Living Conditions
Christopher Graham, an Apostolate worker who recently travelled to India, shared his impressions of the nation:
"The airport in which I landed looks like any other airport, but as soon as you walk out of it, the first thing you encounter is intense heat along with a terrible stench of garbage and human waste."They have few, if any, of the facilities we take for granted in the West. Everywhere you look there are little camps (called "villages"). Usually, there aren't even canvas tents and they prop up anything they can get their hands on just to get a roof. Any piece of discarded lumber or garbage bags held up with sticks are used for roofs. Countless people don't even have this much, only the ragged clothes on their back. Everywhere you look there are children begging, especially if they see someone from the West. The people look sickly and undernourished.
"There are both dogs and children picking through garbage. There are no adults in sight. There seems to be no sign that these children even have parents.
"On our way from the airport, there was a man on the side of the road in the middle of the afternoon going, so to speak, to the washroom.' People passed him by like it was a normal, everyday occurrence.
“I can only describe the road on which I travelled as a large garbage dump with a lonely stretch of asphalt running through it.”
"Cows are everywhere, as they're considered sacred by Hindus. They freely roam the streets and can back up traffic for hours if one decides to take a rest in the middle of the road.
"If you stop at a traffic light, begging children immediately run up to the car. There are no sidewalks or groomed houses on each side. I can only describe the road on which I travelled as a large garbage dump with a lonely stretch of asphalt running through it.
"Instead of seagulls swarming and hovering around this enormous dump, people were living there."More tragic than this destitution, however, is the strange ideology that fosters it. For it is impossible to fully comprehend the severity of India's poverty and suffering without knowing the brutal, pagan principles of the nation's largest religion.
Hinduism's Exaltation of Pitilessness
India is a land rich in resources and manpower. Yet its people are among the poorest and most destitute on earth. A primary reason for this state of affairs must be placed on the dark beliefs of Hinduism, a religion followed by over eighty percent of the population and which has a disregard for human suffering as an integral element of its philosophy and world-view.
The false teaching of reincarnation, a chief tenet of Hinduism, is central to this shocking outlook.
Ed Sanessi, a former member of the branch of Hinduism known as the Hare Krishna movement and former editor-in-chief of its magazine Back to Godhead explains that Hindus "believe that when a person suffers, this is what he is due as a result of the law of ‘karma'." Sanessi continues, "They believe that if a person is suffering now, it is simply because they have supposedly done something sinful in this lifetime or in a so-called ‘past' lifetime. So there is very little compassion."
Sally Belfrage, a former resident of an Indian ashram (a Hindu religious community) and author of the book Flowers of Emptiness recounts that "one was taught to ignore all the dreadful, intolerable poverty and suffering in India. Day and night, there were beggars clustering around the ashram. There were starving children living in little huts surrounding what was supposed to be a religious community. Most members of the ashram failed to notice this suffering. It appeared not to bother them in the least."
Prof. Prabhu Guptara, who was born and raised in India and is a management consultant, writer and lecturer, explained the cruel fatalism and hopelessness that Hinduism fosters. He said, "I was a member of a social service group in college and we were trying to do what we could to help the people in the villages. A gentleman who was the head of the department of Hindi came around to us and said, ‘Why are you doing this? These people who are sick, diseased and suffering in the villages come to earth in this state because they have done something wrong in their past life. So no matter what you do for them, if you cut short their suffering in this life, they will only come back in the next life in the same state or worse ... so you are really wasting your time'."
Professor Johannes Aagaraad, one of the world's leading experts in Hinduism explained that "humanitarian activities are by principle foreign to Hinduism. When these humanitarian activities are found within Hinduism, it is a direct influence from the Christian missionary movement. A sort of imitation Christian missionary activity."
Carol Matrisciana, who was raised in India and is author of the book Gods of the New Age, is one of England's leading authorities on new religious movements. She notes that "Hindus seek to escape suffering by numbing their emotions through meditation. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (the T.M. Guru) once said that ‘a hungry person can become a happy hungry person through practicing meditation'."
Catholics can give thanks that they are not doomed to such "numbness" or the hopelessness it engenders. We know that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, building on the natural compassion embedded in human nature, has raised charity and the love of neighbor to one of the two great commandments. "You must love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, soul and strength and, secondly, you must love your neighbor as yourself." In the dark context of India's pagan pitilessness, Our Lord's words in the Gospel assume an ever more splendid sublimity: "Whatsoever you do to the least of My brethren, you do to Me."