Fr. Varghese Kalapurakudy

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

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Trek to Hill Church

This video shows tough conditions priests and their people face on roads in rural India. Scooters are often piled high with priest, helpers, musical instruments, Mass supplies, food for the day, etc. Riders often carry bundles on their heads and you can hear the motor strain under such a load! Fr. Varghese recorded this scene on his way to Fr. Baskhar's new Divine Mercy Church, in a jungle region five hours' journey north from Fr. Varghese's home in Kakinada.

"The church is supposed to be blessed by the Archbishop, but he is not able to climb the hill, so I became the main celebrant," wrote Fr. Varghese. After the challenging road trip, "Fr. S. (Sridhar) was not feeling well, so we carried him."

Spotting a tiger on a cliff, a bear and chimpanzee in the foliage, and a crocodile near the water" added some excitement to the trip, said Fr. Varghese. He said the workers by the side of the road were harvesting medicinal plants such as pepper and cardamom.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

To America and Back

A migraine sent Fr. Varghese to the hospital a few weeks ago, and a CAT scan helped lead to the diagnosis of Post Trauma Vision Syndrome. Father says that in his youth, he used to "head" the soccer ball "at any height and at any cost." Also, he hit his head some time ago in a scooter accident.

Playing "soccer" with friends in America
Fr. Varghese showed his U.S.
friends how to make Indian
dishes like yellow rice and
Tandoori Chicken.

Doctors found that a former head injury had impacted Father's optic nerves. Thank heavens he is now getting needed treatment, which includes special glasses. He was just back at the doctor’s with a fever and infection in his lip, so was on medication for that, and he visited a dentist in Hyderabad to have a wisdom tooth drilled and capped. But, overall, he’s keeping active and happy at his mission: always something new to report. Please keep Fr. Varghese’s health and recovery in prayer.

Vibrant pictures drawn by Fr. V’s
schoolchildren reflect life in India.
A nicer event was Fr. Varghese’s recent visit to America. He went to visit friends, celebrate the conclusion of his 10-year jubilee year as a priest, see the sights, have a little rest from his busy schedule as pastor -- and to immerse himself in English, because the language helps him bridge various ethnic groups at his Kakinada mission.
Fr. Varghese walked to Chicago's
Millennial Park after a friend treated
him to the Art Institute through
her membership.
Father enjoyed Chicago sights. He was surprised to find a submarine housed at the Museum of Science and Industry, explored the Lincoln Park Zoo and toured international art at the Art Institute. Back at his friends' home he kept active with driveway basketball, soccer time at the park and even jumping rope like a boxer in training! He offered to climb a tall tree to help his host Ed place an antenna. (No, the family didn’t take him up on it, although they were curious to see it done, since Fr. Varghese grew up climbing coconut trees back home!) He took bike rides with the 15-year-old son of the house, but also headed out alone on a bike to check out the nearby bike trail through town and prairie.
Standing on a glass ledge over
Chicago at the Willis ("Sears")
Tower -- no fear.

Fr. Varghese (in homespun cloth from India
because of the rainy day) sang a Telegu song
honoring mothers to his U.S. host's mother.
Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo.

Father and his host family mostly ate at home and shared many family meals. Fr. Varghese often did the cooking and taught them to make Tandoori Chicken with just a few ingredients over a campfire when they went to Wisconsin. At Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, Father spotted a large porcupine munching leaves up in a tree! And Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in LaCrosse, WI, was lovely, with its basilica and prayer path up the wooded hillside to the church.
With a couple young friends after
concelebrating Mass at a church
near Chicago.
American friends took Fr. Varghese into
downtown Chicago on this lovely summer day.
His host family's sons played in this homeschool band concert.
Father marked his ordination anniversary day and the conclusion of his 10-year-jubilee with a tour of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois and by concelebrating Mass down the street at "Marytown," the National Shrine to St. Maximilian Kolbe.

Curious sights at Fullersburg Nature
Center outside Chicago. 
At a little party at Marytown after the Mass, Fr. Varghese reflected on his childhood/vocation, and sang a village song to God in Telegu. A mom/teen daughter also sang, and the daughter shared a lovely song she had composed. All joined in singing a favorite song of Fr. V’s… "Bind us together, Lord…with cords that cannot be broken...Bind us together Lord, Bind us together in love..."
Fr. Varghese was honored on his jubilee
day in the Indian way -- fed bites of cake.
Father's friends quizzed each other about facts of India and passed out hand-drawn pictures from Father’s school kids back home. Everyone enjoyed iced Chai and peppermint tea, chicken salad, Indian munchies and cake. They followed the Indian way: hand-feeding the guest of honor bites of cake.
On his May 5th ordination anniversary day,
Fr. Varghese concelebrated Mass  at 

"Marytown," the U.S. National Shrine
to St. Maximilian Kolbe in
Libertyville, Illinois.
In America, Fr. Varghese enjoyed learning
to make Rosaries out of fisherman's twine.
Fr. Varghese's days in the U.S. centered around Mass. One Sunday, he concelebrated at Mar Thoma Sleeha Cathedral, the only Syro Malabar Cathedral in North America, in Bellwood, Illinois. Father's host family and friends were welcomed warmly from the pulpit by the pastor, Fr. Augustine Palackaparambil and celebrant Fr. Paul (shown right of Fr. V., below).  The priests alternated English with Malayalam to help their guests follow this liturgy in Fr. Varghese’s native Syro Malabar rite, which is in union with the Roman Catholic Church.

At the only Syro Malabar Cathedral
in North America in Bellwood,
After he returned from the U.S. in early June, Fr. Varghese called America a “Wonderland.” Then he wrote about the “showers of blessings” in India. He was speaking of a much-needed rain that was finally falling in India, easing dangerous temperatures. Sadly, while Father was in the U.S., record-breaking heat killed 2,000 people across Andhra Pradesh state (53 in his mission boundaries). Laborers and elderly were dropping in fields and streets.
At Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine
LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
Honoring the Blessed Mother with prayer and flowers
in her month of May.
Father's U.S. friends would hear him on the phone to the priest watching his mission, and he sounded serious. At one point, Fr. Varghese’s mother Philomena and sister Rincy took a two-day journey in a non-air conditioned train in heat reaching well into the triple digits. They were delivering needed documents so Rincy could get married. Philomena got ill in that heat and at journey’s end, they rested in Rincy’s non-air conditioned rented room.  It’s hard to imagine life going on with temps above 118-degree F. Miraculously, wedding plans moved forward and Rincy and Chinna were married at Fr. Varghese's church in Kakinada just two weeks after his return from America. (Click here to see the blog post with photos of the wedding.)

Fr. Varghese's family came to Sacred Heart in Kakinada for Rincy & Chinna's wedding. Shown in top photo are Dad Jose, Mom Philomena, niece Anna Marie, Fr. Varghese and his sister Rinty, and her husband, Michael.

Fr. Varghese stayed mostly healthy this trip (no pneumonia like last year). After his 23-hour flights home and a 10-hour train ride from Bangalore, he plunged back into serving his people.

An unusually bountiful meal shared at a Malayalee home, for the harvest festival of Onam. At right is Fr. Varghese's dinner plate back at Sacred Heart -- a typical meal is heavy on rice and vegetables.
Traveling in India's heat and humidity,
Fr. Varghese improvises head protection.

Akhila was thrilled at Father Varghese’s return from America. Father adopted Akhila when she was just 2-years-old and brought to his door. She is faithful, heads her class in studies, and works hard around the mission.  Fr. Varghese re-enrolled her at her English medium day school the week he returned from America.
Akhila helps around the mission.

Father had First Communions and his sister’s June 17 wedding, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Thomas feasts to celebrate. He also formed new youth and Mariadalam (Legion of Mary) groups.
First Communicants at Fr. Varghese's Church
in Kakinada.

And like anyone returning from vacation, he had many details to see to back home. During the heat wave, many of his chickens had died and his lovebirds were stolen. His other animals (buffalo, cow, sheep) became skinny, but survived. After Father’s return to India and the start of rains, water-born illnesses flourished. The priest made bedside visits to the sick and was home just a day or so, when he visited fellow missionary Fr. Sridhar, who suffered from heat stroke, stomach issues, malaria and typhoid over the summer.  Fr. Varghese visited the priest in his family home, helped him return to his mission, and also brought him to the doctor.
School in India resumed the week Fr. Varghese flew
home. I
n traditional dhoti, he is shown here at Sacred
Heart Mission with the schoolchildren.
Soon after his return to India, Fr. Varghese's former seminary
classmates gathered for special days of recollection in Srikakulam.
Fr. Varghese was asked to be celebrant at the first Mass.
Besides caring for their flocks, good priests also
support each other like brothers. After returning
to India, Fr. Varghese brought his friend and
former seminary classmate, Fr. Sridhar,
to the doctor.
Fr. Varghese (2nd from right) and a decade-old
photo of his seminary class for the Diocese of
Visakhapatnam, India
Fr. Sridhar’s mother is
shown here at her son’s
mission, steaming rice & lentil
“Iddly” for breakfast.
Fr. Sridhar’s mom came to live with her son for a bit, to help cook and care for this young priest. He must regain strength to serve his five missions along coast and in jungle, near the Bay of Bengal. Fr. Sridhar loves his vocation. Fr. Varghese has been friends with Fr. Sridhar since seminary days, and says this son of a village school teacher has the personality of a monk: gentle and quiet. He must be tough, to keep on in his work. Look closely at his photo and you’ll see the scar beneath his eye from when an oncoming truck hogged a forest road and Fr. Sridhar took a nasty spill off his scooter.

Area children gather to help Fr. Varghese
around the mission. Here, they're preparing
feed for his animals.
Priests in his region face many challenges, but "I am happy," wrote Fr. Varghese after his flight back to India. He told how school children were helping him plant trees. He wrote of bringing Jesus in the Eucharist to the sick in the hospital, and of visiting poor families with gifts of rice and dal. The father of one of these families, was suffering with AIDS.

Fr. Varghese saved the life of his lamb Drowsy by rushing her to emergency care after a dog bit her through to the bone, and on another day, one of his turkeys gave birth to healthy chicks. The Feast of the Assumption on August 15, marked also India's Independence Day and Akhila's birthday. Fr. Varghese celebrated a special 7 AM Mass, and presided over flag raising ceremonies at Sacred Heart Mission and Akhila's school. Akhila received a new white dress and shoes, and distributed gifts of little books, a piece of hard candy and a slice of cake to area slum children.


When a priest friend suffered a serious motorbike accident and was in a coma in the hospital, Fr. Varghese hopped a bus for the many-hours' trip to Hyderabad. Offering the priest uplift, he texted another friend from the "suffocating bus" on his return. It was stifling hot and overcrowded, wrote Father. "Pray for us we may not get sick."

A few days prior, Fr. Varghese had written, "There's a proverb: 'After a storm, a calm.' So here my case is, after a calm, a storm. After my U.S. visit God has given me a big cross to carry. The cross of lot of responsibilities and needs. I pray that everything will go on well."

Despite the challenges: frequent power outages, network disruptions, lack of resources, health issues and more, Fr. Varghese has said that if he had his life to do all over again, he would again choose his vocation. Please pray for Fr. Varghese as he continues to lead his little flock; and pray for all his fellow priests and people.

The Eucharist is the "Source and Summit" of all life
at Sacred Heart. 

Little touches beautify Fr.’s mission; now that the worst of the heat is past, Fr. V's animals are healthier; lizards are common in mission rooms; rains flood the grounds; Akhila plays with Drowsy the sheep and Alpha the dog; new turkey chicks; a gift of crabs from a fisherman.