A Temple of a Billion People
February 8, 2017
I am spending two weeks at the beginning of February visiting two Capuchin provinces in India (of the 14 in total) with our provincial minister, Br Michael Sullivan. The purpose of our visit is for building up our fraternal bonds with two of our "sister provinces" and experience the life, culture and history of these brothers and their great land!
The first week of our trip was spent with the brothers in the North Tamil Nadu Province of Amala Annai (Immaculate Conception), visiting the cities of Chennai, Krishnagiri, Yercaud and Trichy. The amazing ministries we visited included parishes, shrines, a free counseling center, their theological college, a training center for family counseling, and two spirituality centers (three if you count the one just beginning construction).
Tamil Nadu is known (and markets itself) as the land of temples... and they are certainly correct! Everywhere you go there are Hindu temples both ancient and modern. Literally EVERYWHERE you go. Also abounding are signs of other faiths: mosques of Islam and churches and shrines of Christianity existing side by side with these temples in harmony. From shrines of Krishna and Ganesh to Mount St Thomas (where the Apostle Thomas is said to have been martyred), people of all faiths flock to these holy places to be spiritually uplifted and culturally nurtured. What a tremendous witness of living in harmony! Even the seemingly chaotic roads and highways are a testify to an ability to love harmoniously together.
Our Capuchin brothers here have grasped this spirit of harmony in ministering to the needs of the people around them (and there are a lot of people around- Chennai is the 16th largest city in the world with a population of almost 5 million) with a fraternal spirit. They welcome everyone- young and old, Christian and Hindu, poor and rich- to offer prayers to the patron Saint of the lost (Saint Anthony of Padua) at their shrine, to pour out their hearts in counseling and direction and prayer, to be trained to minister to the needs of families and in countless other ways.
The dictionary defines a temple as "something which houses the holy". I figured the poverty here would be overwhelming, and it is. I just knew that the driving was going be frightening, and it was (thanks Br. Lawrence for driving us safely everywhere!). I supposed that the culture would be moving and beautiful and I have not disappointed. And I have clearly found a place which houses the holy, a temple of a billion people! And how profound to experience my Capuchin brothers reverencing these holy ones in all they do!