I have recently returned from a delightful visit to India, a land of mystery, enchantment and beauty where a thousand life styles breathe as one nation on a fascinating matrix of languages, customs and beliefs.
People from India will wonder what possessed me to go there during one of the warmest months of the year – temperatures hit 42 degrees some days! I chose this time because I was already committed to an international meeting of MISAL (Missionary Institutes of Societies of Apostolic Life) in Hong Kong and rather than return to Europe and incur the expense of another ticket back to Asia I decided to stay on the continent at this time.
In spite of the heat it was a great visit. My thanks to Fr Joy Andrews and all the members for making my visit so memorable. I met all the confreres presently working in India as well as a number of those home coming from Africa on holiday. I visited the Franciscan Sisters of the Presentation of Mary (who work with us at Nocetta) at the Generalate house in Coimbatore. I was delighted to meet again with Srs Rita and Rani and had the good fortune also to meet with family members of both SMA members and Franciscan Sisters.
As distances between our houses in India are extensive, I took three internal flights – all very comfortable. I flew from Chennai to Hyderabad to visit Jadcherla (Telengana State) to meet with the students of the orientation year and their formators. It is a beautiful house in a somewhat isolated area. Numbers are low this year and the hope is that the coming year will bring more vocations. A noticeable trend is the fewer vocations from Tamil Nadu and the increase from States such as Orissa, Telengana and Andrah Pradesh.
From Hyderabad I flew to Coimbatore and stayed at Karumathampatty. I visited the bishop of Coimbatore and the beautiful new Shrine at Karumathampatty. I saw the big work being done in mission animation and fund-raising.
From here we drove the 200 or so kilometres to Karumathur, Madurai. There, I met the philosophy students and the formators. A highlight of this visit was the blessing of a beautifully carved image of Our Lady of Africa. A large number of friends from neighbouring religious communities participated, collaboration being a feature of religious life at that side.
From Madurai, I flew back to Chennai. I was blessed to meet with some of our students of theology and philosophy and their formators. I also saw the various administrative organs of the Unit and held meetings with individuals and groups big and small.
I have not signalled out any other individual apart from Fr. Joy, the Superior. This is in order to reflect the good family spirit I found among our members. I found a passion for mission exercised through different avenues: parish ministry, formation work, promotion, media, counselling, vocations animation, etc.
The Indian Unit is facing challenges and its leadership is well up to meet these challenges:
- few big formation houses: some of them underused.
- Vocations awareness needs a strong encouragement.
- Financial challenges of various kinds.
- The need to keep the passion for mission and Africa alive
- The opportunities presented by modern media
I could share many more challenges and outline many other aspects of SMA mission as lived in India by the District-in-formation. I hope this very short report gives you some ideas of my experience.
Fachtna O’Driscoll, SMA