God’s Own Country
February 14, 2017
“Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” (Revelation 21: 3-4)
The motto for the State of Kerala in India, where our provincial minister and I spent four days visiting the friars of the Pavanatma (Holy Spirit) Province of Capuchins, is "God's Own Country". Now, being from Wisconsin (which everyone knows is really God's country), I might have taken offense at that, at least until I actually got there. Kerala, with its warm tropical climate and abundant annual rainfall, is a lush, green oasis filled with plantations of bananas, coffee, tea, pepper, coconuts, rubber trees and so much more. Everywhere you look are fields of palms and teak trees and wide running rivers. It's a place of plenty where water buffalo graze, monkeys hang from trees and beg for food on road sides, tigers hunt and elephants forage in the jungle (or so I'm led to believe as the Provincial wouldn't let me look to deeply to find some!).
In the midst of all this beauty and plenty, one finds our Capuchin brothers laboring dutifully and faithfully to meet the needs of the people around them. They minister in parishes (this area is the heart the Syro-Malabar rite of the Catholic Church), at a retreat center which is home of the Charismatic Movement in Kerala, and at a Shrine in the mountains in honor of Saint (Padre) Pio.
What moved me most as I witnessed the life and Ministry of our Brothers in this part of God's own country was their Christ-like witness at the two "Houses for the Poor" that they operate along with the Franciscan Clarist Sisters, one which houses 120 men and the other 120 women. When they first established these homes the friars literally walked the streets and collected the homeless- mostly those who are mentally ill and suffering with AIDS and other diseases (the rejected and forgotten)- and brought them "home" for food and shelter and an assurance that someone cares about them and loves them. While the conditions are bleak by our comparison, the tender care and concern that the staff and volunteers have for the residents- and that residents have for each other- seems to shine brightly beyond the potential for gloom. No one there is forgotten... no one unworthy... no one too sick or too poor.
That's the heart of what God's "country" is really about. A place where tears are tenderly wiped away, pain and sadness is soothed, and God is with his people guiding our hands to be hands of healing like his own, hands which have known the depths of our pain in Christ. What a profound welcome indeed to God's own country!