Fr. Varghese Kalapurakudy

A country priest comes to Kakinada, finding joy with his people in Christ's Sacred Heart.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Rare Visit Home

Fr. Varghese (fifth from left), made a rare visit to his home state of Kerala to visit his family. He stands with co-missionaries from his current home state of Andhra Pradesh. His father Jose stands with cane, his niece Anna Maria is center, and his mother Philomena and sister Rinty are to the right.
When priests serve mission dioceses, they often bid family goodbye for years. Fr. Varghese answered God's call to serve where he was needed most, and left 30% Christian Kerala in southwest India, to serve missions along the eastern Bay of Bengal, in an area less than 3% Christian. Visits back home have been few over the ten years since Father's ordination for the mission Diocese of Visakhapatnam, because needs are heavy in the missions and resources scarce. 

Before he left for his visit home, Fr. Varghese
celebrated his birthday with parishioners at his
Sacred Heart Mission in Kakinada.
"I am happy to be a priest," says Fr. Varghese, who puts his primary focus on teaching his people to love the Mass and the Sacraments, and on Eucharistic and Marian devotion.

He was also thrilled when a chance arose this past September to visit his parents and their home parish two hours drive from Ernakulam. A year prior, Fr. Varghese forego an opportunity to visit home after cyclones hit his missions. He used funds earmarked for his trip, to provide safe tankers of water for his people around Holy Family Church in Yeleswaram and its five mission stations.

Fr. Varghese's sister Rinty, above, and niece
Anna Maria, below, feeds him a piece
of birthday cake.
This year, a friend in America again provided needed funds so Fr. Varghese could make the two-day train ride across India to visit his family. A number of mission priests joined him, turning the visit into a pilgrimage. They all appreciated celebrating Fr. Varghese's birthday in his family home, attending the Mass he celebrated at his parent's Syro Malabar Catholic church, and touring Catholic sites and shrines in an area so richly Catholic.
Sadly, the trip was cut short after just two days when a co-priest and former rector at Fr. Varghese's seminary died unexpectedly. Archbishop Prakash Mallavarapu flew in from Rome and Fr. Varghese and the other priest-pilgrims headed back home by bus, since they could only find standing room only tickets on the train. They spent one night in a bus station and pressed into the grueling two-day trip back, making it just in time to pray at the funeral of their senior priest.

Fr. Varghese celebrates a birthday Mass at his
parents' home parish in the state of Kerala
His parents were sad to see him go, but were understanding of the situation, wrote Fr. Varghese.

Nearly 130 priests were there for the burial. "I was deadly tired, but we made it," he wrote. "My legs are swollen, because of standing."

The day after the funeral, Fr. Varghese wrote that the "missionaries are again in action, after a long and tiresome journey. Priests in the Archdiocese were appreciating us for the immediate response to the need of a fellow brother priest." 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mission bike and frig

"I am so happy to write to you today," wrote Fr. Varghese, "since I am doing lot of work as a missionary just because of your help." 

Father is referring to funds that come in through his "friendly circle" in the United States, a group of friends and family who tell about his needs by word of mouth, keep the missionaries and people of Andhra Pradesh in prayer, and send whatever aid they can. 
Fr. Aruliah's new refrigerator.

One family bought Akhila the orphan her first-ever bicycle, so she can now ride to school, instead of crowding on a bike with another child. Another family sent a practical gift to Fr. P. Aruliah of remote Holy Cross Church in Hamsavaram.  

"When I went to preach Fr. Aruliah's church I felt very bad," wrote Fr. Varghese. "He is having nothing, no proper food, clothing, light, etc. So I went a resale shop and bought a refrigerator for him, so that he can keep food in it."

When villagers bring Fr. Aruliah gifts of food, he has no way to keep it fresh, explained Fr. Varghese. "He will be very happy to receive (the refrigerator)."

Monday, September 8, 2014

Feeding the hungry on Mary's birthday

The wife of noble character "opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy," describes Proverbs 31:20. So what better way to honor the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, the most noble wife to ever live, than with feeding the hungry? On September 8, 2014, Fr. Varghese wrote in an email: "Today's attraction, feeding poor and day of Mariadalem." Volunteers joined Missionaries of Charity and Fr. Varghese at his Sacred Heart Mission, in feeding the needy. Later, the pious ladies' organization, the "Mariadalem," were recognized at a special feast day Mass at the mission. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Celebrating "Onam" within the Light of Christ

Fr. Varghese is second from right, in a
traditional shirt and mundu (robe).
Malayali in the South Indian state of Kerala celebrate the harvest festival of "Onam," with ten days of events and gatherings. Much as Thanksgiving celebrations bridge every class, religion and ethnicity in America, all castes and religions in Kerala join in the cultural celebrations of Onam, which recall the virtuous and peaceable reign of legendary King Mahabali. This ancient monarch is revered for fighting injustice and encouraging equality among all his subjects.

Fr. Varghese hails from Kerala, and joined other Malayali in his current home state of Andhra Pradesh, in celebrating Onam. Although this area is largely Telegu, the coastal city of Kakinada is home to many ethnic groups, including a sizeable population from Kerala. They are called "Malayali" because of their Dravidian language of Malayalam. Keralan native families hosted Fr. Varghese at the main Catholic mission in Kakinada for an afternoon of festivities. He arrived with other guests in his shirt and traditional mundu (robe) and was welcomed with a shower of flower petals.
Ladies in Keralan "sett-saris," traditional linen saris with gold borders, prepared in the church hall a vivid "Pookolam," a "rangoli" pattern decorated with live flower petals. 

Catholics approach Onam as a special time to thank the Lord for and to seek His blessings, although "Onam is not a religious festival and is celebrated by all Malayalis," explains James Matthew, President of a Kerala Catholic Association. He was quoted in an article about Onam, about festivities in his town of Patna: "Since today's function was organized by Kerala Catholic Association, we held prayer service to seek the Almighty's blessing."

Fr. Varghese and others at their Kakinada gathering also took this approach, mixing prayer with the cultural celebration that featured folk dance, music and a shared meal with traditional dishes such as sambar (vegetable stew) with rice and spicy pickles, served on plantain leaves and eaten with the right hand.

"Place Christ and His most Holy Mother at the centre of your celebration of Onam and demonstrate your enthusiasm for Indian culture within the Light of Christ," encouraged a guest poster on a Catholic Answers Forum. "Have a good time..with all the rich colour, foods and traditions that this holiday entails."

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Honoring Blessed Mother Teresa

South African students from a local college joined Missionaries
of Charity in celebrating Mother Teresa's feast. Fr. Varghese
hosted an evening of prayer at his mission, and many of the
students learned to pray the Rosary for the first time.
Missionaries of Charity who live down the road in Kakinada, plus local college students from South Africa, joined Fr. Varghese and his faithful in honoring Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in the days leading up to and including her feast day on September 5, 2014. The sisters teach catechism classes at Sacred Heart, often accompany Fr. Varghese on home visits, and join in whole-heartedly in mission feast celebrations and events. 
Learning to pray the Rosary.
Mother Teresa's birthday is August 26, although she called August 27th, the day she was baptized, her "true birthday." Her day of death was September 5, so for a week or so, prayer and activities at Sacred Heart Mission centered around this nun, who loved to serve Christ in His poor. 
South African students delight in singing songs from
home for Fr. Varghese and the Missionaries of Charity on the
Sacred Heart Mission porch.
"We had a good and small celebration, sisters were very happy," wrote Fr. Varghese, after hearing confessions and celebrating Mass at the Missionaries of Charity convent in Kakinada. "I spoke about the good works of Mother Theresa and her Charisms." 
Students far from their South African home and
unused to Indian food were thrilled to join the
Missionaries of Charity and Fr.Varghese in a meal
of chicken and fries.
A Friday night Scriptural Rosary and Eucharistic procession involved the whole parish.  Faithful wrote prayer intentions to present to the Lord, which were then burned -- symbolic of giving the intentions over to God, and of the prayers rising to heaven, just like smoke. At Sunday Mass, local teachers were presented flower garlands, and prayed for by Fr. Varghese and the congregation. 
Honoring Mother Teresa at Sacred
Heart Mission began with the traditional lighting
of an oil lamp, an "inauguration" ceremony that
symbolizes the light of Christ. 
On the actual feast, Fr. Varghese invited South African college students who study nearby, and who sometimes come to him for counseling. Many are homesick and struggle to adjust to the different culture and food of India, so Fr. Varghese invited them to join Missionaries of Charity in praying a Rosary. Afterwards came a little party, with the students getting lively singing songs from home. They were thrilled to enjoy a meal that gave them a break from the unfamiliar tastes of Indian food -- chicken, french fries and a bite of feast day cake. Friends from the U.S. sent the funds for this special night, that provided a real uplift to the students in a way that would have delighted Mother Teresa.

Honoring Missionaries of Charity with roses.

Praying before Our Lord in the Eucharist.

The whole mission joined in a Eucharistic procession 
on mission grounds.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pray For Us!