Father Dominic’s Eye-Witness Account
On Sunday January 26, 2014, I had the unique pleasure to take part in the dedication of the newly-built Sacred Heart Shrine Church in the village of Nambur, India.
It was truly an honor to be invited to the celebration in recognition of the support of our open-hearted American donors who shared the dream of completing the structure. Also attending were Fr. Tom Cassidy, SCJ, former Provincial Superior in the U.S. and Pam Milczarski from our Development Office.
On behalf of Fr. Dharma, the young parish priest who worked tirelessly to give his community a real Catholic church, and all of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, I am pleased to share my story.
The journey begins…
Travel to India began with a 2-hour drive to Chicago O’Hare airport, followed by 19 hours of flying time, concluding with a 6-hour Jeep ride to the new Sacred Heart Shrine Church in Nambur in the state of Guntur in eastern India.
Upon our arrival we were given a first glance and tour of the new church, which is colorful and splendid! We were taken to the land behind the church, upon which we pray one day will sit a Catholic School. Although it was dark by now, we found 50 volunteers feverishly working to get everything ready for the elaborate dedication festivities.
There were parishioners cutting wood for the fire that would cook the food, men preparing the rice, and women and children preparing the vegetables for the 10,000 guests expected the next day. These volunteers worked all day and through the night in preparation of the celebration where Pam and I were honored to serve those that came. (Yes, there were 10,000!) We walked away with quite a few blisters from the “less than American” type of serving spoon.
The joyous celebration!
“The celebration was grand.” stated Fr. Tom. “Nothing we do would compare to the type of celebration the Indian people of Nambur assembled. Simply put, it fit perfectly within the cultural context of India.”
At 5:00 p.m. the Bishop of Guntur and Fr. Tom were driven to the edge of Nambur where they were helped into an elaborate silver gilded carriage pulled by two white horses. They were led by a variety of groups in the form of a parade.
By the time they reached the church it was just about dark and the church was lit up in all its glory. The lights on the church itself were not just for this occasion but are meant to adorn the church on a permanent basis.
As the Bishop and Fr. Tom were helped out of the carriage, the priests who were going to concelebrate gathered to be vested and proceed to the church. Fr. Tom and I were given places of honor just in front of the Bishop. We would also be given parts in the dedication ceremony itself.
Because of the large crowd, the Mass itself was held outside. Fr. Tom was given the honor of cutting the ribbon at the main entrance doors which were then opened so people would be able to see the interior of the church and observe the rituals of the dedication liturgy including the consecration of the altar with holy oil.
As the crowd gathered, Pam, along with the parishioners, sat on tarps on the dirt road outside the church. There are no pews or seating in the church itself. Indian culture is very comfortable with sitting on the ground even inside the churches.
Fr. Tom was asked to incense the church, bless several crosses with holy oil and – “the most thrilling” – bless the tower and its statues. This involved climbing stairs that have no railings and, for part of the way, are open on one side. Doing all this in alb and chasuble was a challenge. “Luckily”, says Fr. Tom, “I had my iPhone with its flashlight application as it came in handy in some of the dark corners on the way up to and down from the tower.”
The Bishop spoke for about 16 or 17 minutes. By the time the liturgy ended and Fr. Dharma, the parish priest, gave his thanks it was 9:00 p.m. We were driven back to the novitiate, our home-away-from-home, where a wonderful meal was prepared for the community and 500 invited guests.
An unforgettable experience
This journey was truly an amazing experience for Fr. Tom, Pam and me. Thank you, my friends, for your help in making it possible. Witnessing the joy of a dream come true for the parishioners of Nambur is a blessing that will warm my heart forever.
May God bless all of you who opened your heart in kindness to support our mission in India. With your help, the first ever Catholic church in this village now rises over the plains, inspiring the lives of the faithful.
Let the Priests of the Sacred Heart pray for your loved ones and intentions.