Fr. Varghese Kalapurakudy

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

All the Earth, Let us Sing

Missionaries and tutors traveled in to host the
"camp" at Sacred Heart.
Twelve young people to one guitar; fifteen-plus at the drum pad; another cluster waiting patiently to try a keyboard; and a group of all ages clicking neem sticks in a traditional folk dance: enthusiasm and curiosity characterized the fine arts "camp" invigorated by Catholic faith and culture at Sacred Heart Mission in Kakinada. 
Everything at this Kakinada mission
centers around the love of Christ
and His Sacred Heart. Volunteers and
even local street kids dug and planted,
beautifying the mission.
The traditional Indian inauguration of the Sacred
Heart camp.
As many as 250 young people traveled across the state of Andhra Pradesh October 19-21, 2015, to  receive a little "fine tuning" in singing, playing various instruments and dance. Many had never before experienced such a blend and immersion, praying, singing and dancing their way through the 3-day camp run by Fr. Varghese and a number of musical missionary priest friends, lay helpers and tutors.

After hosting a similar event at his former mission last year, Fr. Varghese was asked to host the camp by the head of his "deanery" (region within his Diocese of Visakhapatnam) at his new church of Sacred Heart.
All good things start and end with prayer.
When needed funds never arrived, Fr. Varghese went door-to-door begging aid, collecting sacks of rice and other basic goods to feed the children for three days and to run a successful camp.

Fifty more campers than were expected arrived -- children of all backgrounds, from Kakinada's coastal city to scattered villages. The girls stayed down the block at the Missionaries of Charity convent by night, and the boys bunked at a local school. All gathered beneath tents and on rooftops at Sacred Heart by day, exploring music and dance within a context of faith, as never before.
When Fr. Varghese was struck by a migraine on opening day, fellow priests and lay people kept the "show on the road." Father was soon back on his feet, overseeing classes and every aspect of hosting such an event -- from erecting tents on the rooftop to rigging a camp kitchen in the old cow shed on his property. Overall, Fr. Varghese said he was grateful for God's guidance through the days leading up to the event, and on camp days. 
The missionary, who himself hails from a poor background, often talks about how the poor need to experience beauty to enrich their lives, uplift their spirits and draw them nearer to Heaven. He focuses on his faithful preparing well for Mass, on solid basic teaching and a leaning into God's love in adoration, and through Marian devotions and social outreach. The camp adds another dimension to church life, that gives children a chance to express themselves through both faith and the arts.

Children patiently awaited a brief turn at the instruments.

About the camp's success at a time when October Hindu festivals are being observed across India, Fr. Varghese texted, "I am happy...Many kids are learning beautiful things." 

Every space at the mission was used for the camp.
Cloth partitions and tents sheltered campers and
provided classrooms.
Many of the children tried out the instruments for their
very first time

This traditional dance with neem sticks burned off a
lot of energy!

The girls danced on the mission rooftop.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Palanquin for "Mama Mary"

Fr. Varghese joked that the first one to pray before his mission's lovely new Blessed Mother statue and her "palanquin" was his buffalo calf Japamala (Telegu language for "Rosary"). Father grew up in the southwest Indian state of Kerala, where processions honoring "Mama Mary" were a tradition amongst the 30% Catholic population.
Fr. Varghese raised funds with his faithful to start hand-building a wooden "palanquin," or litter, to carry a statue of the Blessed Mother. Needs outpaced funds, however, so a handful of families from the U.S. sent aid to provide for the statue, the lovely royal blue umbrella, and for the palanquin, which Fr. Varghese says is a symbol of Royalty. 

By bearing a statue of the Blessed Mother on a palanquin, he and his people are declaring "Mama Mary" as their queen, explains Fr. Varghese, who has a life-long love of the Rosary and the Blessed Mother from his mother Philomena, who gathered her family for Rosary prayers nightly. Like any good mother, the Blessed Mother leads those who love her into deeper union with her Son. When Fr. Varghese was discerning his vocation as a teen, Philomena prayed the Rosary for this intention, and Father credits these prayers with having a strong impact on his entry into the seminary.

After several weeks of construction, the Sacred Heart Mission palanquin made its debut on the night of October 1st. Father processed with a couple dozen faithful for the first two nights (see video below), led the people in adoration and celebrated Mass for First Friday the third night, then reported a miracle on Sunday night, when 100 people showed for the procession!

A different family hosts a visit from the palanquin nightly, and provides a lovely sari for the Blessed Mother. The saris are then kept and treasured by each family. In future, if someone takes ill in the family, she might be draped in the sari, and the Blessed Mother begged to unite in special prayers. The sari might also be donned for a special occasion, such as being worn by a bride.

But for now, Sacred Heart faithful are processing to one home nightly, led by Fr. Varghese and often joined by Missionaries of Charity from Blessed Mother Teresa's order. The journey brings them  anywhere from 6 km away from the mission, to the farthest distance to date, 16 km! 

When asked how people could march such a long distance, and teased that they were preparing for an Olympic event, Father Varghese wrote, "We all love her. We don't know the pain."