August 19, 2005

Catholics from India celebrate
Marian feast day and Independence Day

By Mary Ann Wyand

St. Thomas the Apostle brought the Catholic faith to India in 52 A.D.

Today, about 16.5 million Catholics comprise about 1.57 percent of India’s population of 1 billion people.

The central Asian country was liberated from British rule 58 years ago and now is the world’s largest democracy.

Asian Indian Catholics who live in central Indiana filled the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Aug. 15 to celebrate the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary as well as India’s Independence Day.

Traditional Asian Indian religious customs and costumes added to the joyful celebration of the eucharistic liturgy. Father George Nangachiveettil, a priest from India who has ministered as a chaplain at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for a year and a half, was the principal celebrant.

Father Patrick Beidelman, rector of the cathedral and director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship, concelebrated the liturgy and Father Kenneth Taylor, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis and director of the archdiocesan Office of Multicultural Ministry, greeted the Indian families after the Mass.

“There are about 150 dioceses in India,” Father Nangachiveettil explained in his homily. “The Catholic faith is thriving in India.”

After the liturgy, he said the Church in India still faces some persecution.

“In spite of our challenges, we are very active there,” Father Nangachiveettil said. “We can influence the government and our bishops are respected. The only challenges that we are facing are from the Hindu fundamentalists who are attacking some of our convents, our churches and our priests.”

There are about 100 Catholic families from India living in central Indiana, he said, and they are grateful to the ­archdiocese and the Multicultural Ministry Commission for this opportunity to celebrate the Marian feast day and their native country’s Independence Day.

“The feast of the Assumption and our liberation happened on the same day on Aug. 15,” Father Nangachiveettil said, “so people—and especially Christians—feel very strongly that our mother country has had two ways of liberation. We celebrate the commemoration of two liberations—Jesus the liberator through Mary and also our liberation from the colonization by the British.

Dr. Jessie Dias, a St. Monica parishioner and member of the archdiocesan Multi­cultural Ministry Commission, welcomed the Asian India Catholics to the first annual celebration of their faith and democracy.

“It gives me great honor to welcome you to this celebration of the Assumption of Mary,” Dias said, “and of India’s independence.”

Commission members hope to make the joint celebration an annual event.

A liturgy guide for the Mass explained that Mary is the patroness of India and the Blessed Mother appeared to a Hindu boy at Vailankanni in Tamil Nadu during the mid-16th century. After St. Thomas the Apostle brought the Catholic faith to India in the first century, St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary, brought about a second wave of evangelization in the 16th century. Many Asian Indian Catholics have been persecuted since the early years of the Church there.

A variety of Indian foods were served during a reception after the liturgy. †


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