June 19, 2015

Relationship between archdiocese, Indian diocese builds ‘appreciation of worldwide Church’

Bishop A. Jude Paulraj of the Diocese of Palayamkottai in India gives a blessing to Phelomina Fernando while her daughter, Leena Fernando, smiles in the narthex of St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis on June 9. The bishop celebrated Mass there in thanksgiving for the parishioners’ donations to help build the cathedral in his diocese. Leena, a member at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, and her family lived at one time in the Palayamkottai Diocese. Her parents happened to be visiting her during the bishop’s stop at St. Luke. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Bishop A. Jude Paulraj of the Diocese of Palayamkottai in India gives a blessing to Phelomina Fernando while her daughter, Leena Fernando, smiles in the narthex of St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis on June 9. The bishop celebrated Mass there in thanksgiving for the parishioners’ donations to help build the cathedral in his diocese. Leena, a member at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, and her family lived at one time in the Palayamkottai Diocese. Her parents happened to be visiting her during the bishop’s stop at St. Luke. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

On the southern tip of India is the town of Palayamkottai, about an hour’s drive from the Indian Ocean—and about 9,000 miles from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Yet despite that daunting distance, faith communities in India and Indiana have been brought together through their shared connection of a saint, a parish priest and especially the town’s St. Xavier Cathedral Church.

It’s a beautiful, Gothic-style structure built in 1863. Its tall yellow walls, white arches and tiered bell tower make an elegant outline on the horizon of the town of less than 100,000 people.

In 1973, the then-110-year-old parish church was designated the cathedral of the newly formed Diocese of Palayamkottai.

While there was no doubt of its beauty, the structure—which still serves as a parish church—was never intended to meet the demanding needs of a diocesan cathedral. What was spacious and elegant 152 years ago is now too small and has become structurally unsafe.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis/India connection

Father Jegan Peter, associate pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, can testify to the cathedral’s space limitations and run-down state. After all, the Palayamkottai native served as associate pastor of the cathedral for his first assignment after being ordained in 2009.

“It’s right downtown, just like St. John [the Evangelist Parish] in Indianapolis,” he explained. “They had issues accommodating people.

“And recently they found that they couldn’t do electrical work safely. It’s not safe enough for a person to work in. There are a lot of cracks in the walls and ceilings.”

Although Father Peter was raised and ordained in India, he received his priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

His placement at the southern Indiana seminary was not random. As result of an arrangement struck between the Diocese of Palayamkottai and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in 2005, the Indian diocese sends one to two seminarians to Saint Meinrad every one to two years. The archdiocese covers a large portion of their expenses.

In turn, after gaining a few years of pastoral experience in India, the Saint Meinrad-educated priests of Palayamkottai Diocese return to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to serve as priests for five to seven years.

There are currently two such priests serving in the archdiocese: Father Peter, who came to St. Luke Parish in 2012, and Father Sengole Thomas Gnagnaraj, who came to the archdiocese in 2011 and now serves as administrator of St. Michael Parish in Cannelton and St. Pius V Parish in Troy.

“People have such affection for Father Peter,” said Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, pastor of St. Luke. “He’s done good work here, and the people appreciate it.”

‘This is a real leap of faith’

The year of Father Peter’s ordination is about the time Bishop A. Jude Paulraj of the Palayamkottai Diocese said he started investigating the possibility of constructing a new cathedral to replace the run-down, inadequate space of St. Xavier Cathedral Church.

When the two-year construction project began early this year, Father Peter asked Msgr. Schaedel if there was anything the parish could do to help.

The timing—just before Lent—was perfect.

“Here at St. Luke during Lent, because of the almsgiving, we do a second collection every weekend,” said Msgr. Schaedel. “On the Sundays when there is no archdiocesan mission collection, we make up our own.”

Msgr. Schaedel decided to make the Indian cathedral construction project the cause for one of the Lenten second collections.

The effort raised about $22,000—a figure Msgr. Schaedel said is nearly triple the amount usually raised during a second collection in the parish.

An additional fundraiser for the cathedral brought in an estimated $15,000-$20,000.

“I know from my time when I was in the [archdiocesan] Missions Office that people in the archdiocese are extremely generous when they see a need,” Msgr. Schaedel said. “The people of St. Luke are no different. They’re very generous when they see a need.

“Because of Father Peter’s presence here, they feel some connection with his diocese in India.”

Father Peter was touched by the outpouring—more from a spiritual aspect than a financial one.

“It wasn’t just giving checks or financial support, but people assuring their prayers, their spiritual support,” he said. “That’s what we need. When [support] comes from the other side of the world, there’s more of a consciousness that we belong to the same Church. It’s about people in communion with the bigger Catholic community. [The parishioners] feel very much in communion with the Catholic Church in my diocese in India.”

While visiting the United States to celebrate his niece’s wedding, Bishop Paulraj came in June to thank the parishioners of St. Luke for their generosity.

He described the sacrifices made by the members of his diocese to raise money for the cathedral despite their poverty. The funds donated by St. Luke parishioners are thus greatly appreciated, he said.

“We feel humbled,” he added. “This is a real leap of faith. [The people of St. Luke Parish] do not know us except through Father Peter.”

‘Catholicism is growing and sprouting’

Indeed, Father Peter—along with the four Indian Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who teach at St. Luke School—has helped the parishioners come to know more about the Catholic customs and culture in India.

“When Father Peter first came to the parish, he talked [in his homily] about the connection we have through St. Francis Xavier,” Msgr. Schaedel noted. St. Francis Xavier is the patron saint for both the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and the Diocese of Palayamkottai.

Homilies are just one way Father Peter shares information about Catholic customs and culture in India.

“I talk about Catholicism and culture in India when I visit homes, or if a group invites me to speak,” he said.

“In our school the year before last, we had a week of celebration just about India. The kids are very excited to learn about Indian culture and Catholicism.

“And the sisters are here [at the school], so the students … are exposed to Indian culture in a way that they can learn the background [of India], where Catholicism is growing and sprouting.”

‘Appreciation of the worldwide Church’

The collection is not the first time St. Luke parishioners have helped Father Peter’s native home.

Msgr. Schaedel described how, when it was discovered that Father Peter’s parents had no well for drinking water because they could not afford one, several parishioners arranged to have one installed “pronto.” The new well serves not only Father Peter’s parents, but others in their neighborhood as well.

Msgr. Schaedel said such global relationships between faith communities can benefit Catholics of central and southern Indiana as well as the members of the Indian diocese.

“For us at St. Luke, we have learned to appreciate the Indian culture and the strength of the Church in south India,” he said. “We have a much better appreciation for Indian culture and customs through this relationship.

“We are gaining from this, because we have a deeper appreciation of the worldwide Church.”
 

(For more information on the Palayamkottai Diocese, log on to www.palayamkottaidiocese.org. To learn more about St. Xavier Cathedral Church or to donate to the construction of the new cathedral, log on to palayamkottaicathedral.org.)

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