Pastoral activities in Binjhia.
When I was the priest in charge of Binjhia that parish consisted of a vast area. We priest used to visit villages under Binjhia regularly. Since we were three priests two of us used to go out to the neighboring out stations like Chargaon, Malimohgaon, Sankui or Jhiria-Subaria on Sundays to celebrate Sunday Mass with the people of those places. SMMI Sisters of Lalipur also used to visit outstations regularly. We used to organize intensive summer catechesis to various centres in the parish. People were free in summer. We had some veteran catechists like Hilarius Minj, Chetaram Sarote, Prakash Bhavediya and later Raphael Baxla, Janaklal and Premlal Dhurvey who were responsible for the spread of the faith in this region. We can never forget their contribution to the Church in this Narmada belt. As long as I was the Priest in charge of Binjhia I was the Dean of Mandla deanery. I continued as a member of the District Peace Commision and was in close contact with the leading citizens of Mandla. Katra hospital also had a good name in those days. The St. josep's sisters of Katra were known for their friendly relationship with the people of the town. The people used to call them"didis"(elder sister).Once sister Elenor, a religious nurse in Katra hospital had a rupture in her intestine and started vomiting blood. She needed immediate blood transfusion. Within half an hour the news reached the town and a large crowd of college students and others lined up in the hospital offering blood for the sister. Those were the glorious days of Katra hopital. The impact of the hospital helped us indirectly in our evangelizationwork.
Kathedral Parish Priest.
After being in Binjhia for three years, I was transferred to the Cathedral parish at Jabalpur as Parish Priest in May 1988. Fr. Benedict Andrade was appointed in my place in Binjhia as the priest in charge and Director of the Pastoral Centre. I took over the administration of the Cathedral Parish from Fr. Luis Rodrigues. For six months I was observing the place and the people around me. I continued the pastoral services my predecessor used to render to the parishioners. Every evening I would go visiting the homes of the parishioners. After six months I reconstituted the parish council and finance kommittee. I retained most of the old members in the parish council and selected a few new ones especially to represent tose areas from where there were no members. I was looking for a suitable person to function as the Secretary of the Parish Council I got Lt.col. Walter D'Souza for this ministry. He had the full support of his wife Melany. He was a retired military officer and a very good administrator. I felt that for the proper functioning of the parish administration, we should have a parish office and a competent person to run the office. Col.Walter found one in the person of Major Joe Gomes, another retired military officer, for this office. With Walter D' souza as the parish council Secretary and Joe Gomes as Finance Secretary and parish office in charge I was free to do parish visits which was the only way of knowing the people. These two were honest, committed and men of faith. Their only interest was the interest of the parish. Both rendered their service to the parish without any remuneration. Joe was very strict with the money of the parish. I took the parish council into confidence and they took active interest in the welfare of the parish.
With this new set up I was able to keep a few elements away from the parish office who were taking undue advantage of the generosity of the parish priest especially during important feasts in the parish and in the distribution of charity. Fr. Louise Rodrigues was a very fine person, very kind to the poor and loved by the parishioners. Unfortunately he was very sickly. He had severe attacks of Asthma and could not do much of parish administration. He died three years after he was transfered from the Cathedral due to a severe asthmatic attack. He died in his own home in Mangalore.
Involvement of the laity in parish administration.
|Community of Hope in jabalpur
A city parish is quite different from a rural parish. A priest needs to understand this difference and adapt himself accordingly. He has to deal with different types of people. While dealing with some people the priest has to struggle to keep himself cool. On the whole I found the people of the Cathedral parish very good and I enjoyed my stay with them. People tried to test me in the begining but once they understood me they co-operated with me.
I had a small group of elderly legionaries in the parish who were praying for me every day. They were my spiritual power centre. I used to get a lot of strength from their prayers. Personal visits were the only way I could draw people to myself and to the church. There were also trouble makers in the parish. Since I had the support of the majority of the people I had no fear facing any one.
More land for the cemetery.
The Christians of all denominations in Jabalpur had only one graveyard for their burial purpose. We had a cemetery committee to look after the administration of the graveyard. By tradition the parish priest of the Cathedral was the Chairman of the Cemetery committee and all the various denominations had membership in the committee. In my time Mr. Eric D'souza was the Secretary of the committee. He worked very hard and joyfully to turn the cemetery which was a God-forsaken place into a beatiful and attractive sacred place. He had roads built in the graveyard, crotons and flower plants planted and lights put up. We had a Chaukidar to look after the graveyard so that nobody would misuse ot desecrate that sacred place. In my time we managed to get six more acres of land from the military for the cemetery through the intervention of Mrs.Effie D'souza who was very influential in the Jabalpur cantonment board. She was a member of the Cathedral parish. The process for acquitting the land for the cemetery was started by Fr. Louise and I pursued the matter and got the land. We used to have Mass on the 2nd of November, All Souls day, in the graveyard and number of priests and thousands of faithful of Jabalpur used to gather in the cemetery that day to participate in the Mass and to pray for their dead. Mr.Eric served the cemetery for 26 years. He got an altar built in the middle of the Graveyard to celebrate Holly Mass. He was a very close friend and and supporter of mine. He had reserved a place for himself in the graveyard. But God's plan for him was different. In the summer 2010 he went to Goa for a holiday and there while he was praying the rosary in the evening with his family he fell down and died. He was buried in Goa close to the graves of his family members.
Marriage preparation course.
After I took over the administration of the Cathedral parish I noticed that a number of people were having family problems. I have been spending a lot of time councelling them and settling their cases. Many were asking for separation which was not possible once they were married in the church and lived together. There were many cases of married people living separately with other partners. I noticed that they were not intructed about the sacredness of marriage and of family life.They had the marriage blessed in the church since it was a custom amoung christians and for the rest marriage was only a social affair for them.
I felt the need of preparing the couples before marriage. I had seen how the Church in Chotanagpur prepared the couples for marriage. I had some experience of marriage preparation in the philippines. I discussed with Bishop Theophane about my plan of starting a marriage preparation course in the Cathedral parish. Bishop advised me to involve all the priests of the city parishes and conduct the programme for the entire city. Parish priests of city parishes liked the idea and we started a three-day intensive marriage preparation course in the Cathedral parish for all the parishes of Jabalpur. Initially there were some negative reactions from the people. Ultimately once we started the programme the particepants found it so usefull that they were saying that if they knew that this was the marriage preparation course they were prepared to spend not three days but one week attending the course. This way we were preparing future christian families and we found it a succes. The Bishop made the marriage preparation course compulsory before marriage in the whole diocese. I had a team consisting of married couples, medical personnel and priests to help me with the training.
Democracy in the diocese.
The appointment of Vicar General, Secretary, College of Consultors and Administrative Council is a prerogative of the Bishop. Bishop chooses competent and trustworthy priests to these posts. But Bishop Theophane adopted a different policy. He said that all the priests are equal in his sight. He could work with any priwst. So he asked the priests to choose anybody they liked for the above -mentioned posts. From that day onwards till the resignation of Bishop Theophane all the office bearers in the diocese were elected by the priests of the diocese. Jabalpur was the only diocese in India which introduced the democratic method to elect important office bearers to assist the Bishop. Bishop Theophane remained Bishop of the diocese for twenty -five years. He was a man of prayer, very much missionary minded and people oriented.
Dean of Jabalpur deanery.
A year after I came to the Cathedral as the parish priest, I was elected as Dean of Jabalpur deanery. During my tenure as Dean we had a number of events in the church for which animation and preparation were needed.Introduction of "a new way of being the Church" through the Small Christian Communitties, celebration of the Family Year announced by the Holy Father and the preparation for and celebration of Jesu Christ Jayanthi 2000 were some of them. Among the parish priests of Jabalpur deanery, there were diocesan priests, Jesuits, Norbertines and the CMIs. All of them co-operated in the programmes and worked towards making our parishes more active and vibrant. //-
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