Fr. Parfait, of the Dehonian Studies Center, reports on his formation experience in India.
After a long pilgrimage at the Indian Embassy in Rome I was finally called on Tuesday 11 of April at 4:36 pm to come and collect my requested visa to India. I could then breath a fresh air and get ready for my Congregational mission through the Dehonian Studies Centre (CSD). I left Rome on the 14 April at 3:25 pm and reached India by Chennai Airport the following day at 9:00 am. I was warmly welcomed by my fellow confreres Frs. Rinu and Roy, respectively the then Superior and the Bursar of the India District of the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The following day which was the Sunday of the Divine Mercy, I had the chance to experience for the first time the Eucharistic celebration in an Indian context at Saint Thomas More Parish in Chennai. Everything was new to me, as if I were in another world. The whole celebration was in the Tamil language. Thank God I could understand something from my personal faith. At the end of the celebration I was asked by the parish priest to address the faithful and to bless them. What a faith! What a devoted people I could feel. After the celebration the faithful came to greet me and to exchange words with me. What hospitality!
Since my main mission did not begin until 30 April, the District, through its humble servant Fr. Rinu, made a programme in such a way that I could explore and enjoy each minute of my stay in India. For that reason, I left Tamilnadu land on 17 April and went to Andhra-Padesh. There I resided in the Theology House. I visited all our communities in the area and some other important places such as the “Holy Land”, the Cathedral of the diocese Eluru, the bishop House and the famous Marian Shrine of Nirmalagri Matha. After the Theology House, I went to the Noviciate at Nambur in the morning of 21 April and there I visited the Minor Seminary as well. From Andhra I moved to Kerala on 22 April accompanied by Fr. Michael Benedict the superior of the then Philosophy House where the retreat took place from 26 to 30 April. It was a long trip by train; the longest nonstop trip in my life (nineteen hours and fifteen minutes). There I visited our communities and some other important places such as Saint Andrew’s Basilica at Arthunkal, the Thankey church (where it is believed a miraculous statue of Jesus has grown hairs), Saint George church at Arasupuram and Saint Mary’s Basilica of Varappuzha diocese.
The heavens blessed us in the middle of summer with a nice rain on 30 April, the day we started our retreat on “Dehonian Spirituality and the Rule of Life” proposed by Fr. Rinu. The audience of the retreat was made up of twenty-seven confreres in temporary vows and one final professed scholastic- a total of twenty-eight confreres with from two to seven years of religious life. I re-proposed the theme adding the preposition “in”. In that way, it became “Dehonian Spirituality in the Rule of Life”. The reason for this light change on the title was that speaking of the Dehonian Spirituality and the Rule of Life was to be a very long journey which was practically impossible to achieve in five days, even though the Dehonian Spirituality in the Rule of Life itself is not a lesser endeavour.
The main subject matter being the Dehonian Spirituality, my interest was to show them how and where we can find the expressions that Dehonian Spirituality in our Rule of Life. I addressed the theme in four moments: first by exploring the term spirituality; second, by going into Fr. Dehon’s background to find out how he built up his own spirituality and personality, which qualified it as “the spirituality of Fr. Dehon”; third, I moved to the Dehonian Spirituality and, fourth, the “Indianisation of the Dehonian Spirituality” was an open discussion. From the enriching sharing that came out I could feel the interest and the thirst that my young fellow Indians confreres have not only to know deeply about the identity of the Congregation but most importantly their availability to appropriate the heritage of Fr. Dehon in their context. Among others they were touched by Dehonian values such as the spirit of love and availability, the spirituality of reparation, the daily adoration and the Dehonian hospitality. For most of them, the Dehonian Spirituality is nothing else than the exposition of the Dehonian identity. From all of the above, I can say without any risk of being wrong that India is a favourable land to spread and implement the Dehonian Spirituality. The love of Christ and the love of society should push us to be rooted in Christ and be socially active at the same time.
To conclude this feedback on my Indian mission, I would like to express my profound gratitude to General Administration and to the Dehonian Studies Centre for making that experience possible. It has been for me an enriching experience because what I gave there is nothing compared to what I received as experience. My gratitude goes to all the Indians confreres for their great sense of hospitality and in a very special way to Fr. Rinu who has been always available to facilitate my going to India and my stay there. Just as traveling was part of Fr. Dehon’s character formation and faith reinforcement (cf. NHV 1/115), I am tempted to say that my Indian mission has really challenged my faith, especially on that Friday 21 April in the afternoon at Nambur in the Noviciate House when I was informed about the sudden death of my dad. In the spirit of the Ecce Venio, I accepted that situation being a thousand miles from my biological family, and I entrusted everything to the Sacred Heart of Jesus who helped me to finish my mission with all the serenity possible. May God continue to bless and sustain the seed that was sown in the Indian land nearly 29 years ago by Frs. Martin van Ooij and Andrew Ryder, all Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.