07.14.2010 to 07.18.2010

Bangalore, India

These are just a few more of my reflections from my stay with the Salesian sisters.  I apologize if my entries are getting more vague and less specific but now that I have had time to slow down a bit, I’ve had more time to think and reflect on my experiences so far.

Missionaries from India
Mike, the volunteer coordinator, arrived a few days ago.  He is staying here for a bit because we have electricity (most of the time!) and a reliable internet connection so he can write his reports and keep in touch with Home of Hope in the U.S.

A couple of days ago, Mike and I were invited by two Salesian priests that live down the road, Fr. Joe and Fr. Lionel, to have lunch with them.  Mike and I had paid a visit to Fr. Lionel earlier in the week because Mike wanted to talk to Father about the work he does in Africa.  Fr. Lionel has been a missionary priest in Sierra Leone for several years.  He shared with us many pictures and information about the situation in Sierra Leone and what the Salesians are doing there to make life better for the people who have been through a lengthy civil war in the last decade.

The Salesians have set up schools and homes for the children who have survived the civil war.  Many of them are orphans or were child soldiers and there is much work to be done to rehabilitate them.  It was heart-breaking to hear about it, but the Salesians are working hard to improve the lives of these children so they can have normal, adult lives.  When asked if the poverty in Africa was worse than India, Father Lionel replied, “Yes, it is worse in Africa, because in India we have hope.  In Africa, there is no hope.  So we must bring hope to them and show them the value of human life and dignity.”  Wow.  I am so inspired by these priests and sisters I have met in India.

The Church in India
It has been three months of traveling so far for me.  In that time, I have traveled through France, Spain and Italy (all three of which are more secular than Catholic anymore), onto Israel and Jordan (where Islam and Judaism are the majority religions) and into India (where Hinduism is the majority religion).

While in Europe, I experienced a lot of different emotions and thoughts about the Catholic Church.  I walked through hundreds of little towns, all of them with Catholic Churches and most of them closed.  I attended Mass when I could and was usually the youngest person by twenty years in the Church.

I had the distinct sense that the Catholic Church as I know it, is dying in Europe.  For all I know, it may already be dead.  It was very disheartening and kind of made me sad.

Here I was, a pilgrim on an ancient path, walking as millions of pilgrims have before me, only to realize that the Church, whom I have a very precarious relationship with at the moment, is losing ground at an alarming rate in the Western world.

Now, I am in India and I am experiencing the complete opposite.  I went to Sunday morning Mass at 7 a.m. and there were at least 500 people at Mass.  They had at least three more Masses after that one!  All of them full, according to the sisters.  The Church is growing, building churches, vocations are blossoming and the church is doing amazing work with the poor here.  I am in constant amazement at the way the Church works with the communities here to give them a hand up, not a hand out.

So, what now?
Well, as I write this, my stay in India is coming to a close.  I am 100% sure it was not long enough and I feel like there is still more for me to do here.  I have told the sisters and the students I plan to come back in a year and stay longer.  I have asked for them to pray for me to 1) find a job when I return home and 2) to save every penny I can!

Trying to explain to someone who has very little in India that I also have very little in the U.S. is very difficult.  It is assumed that since you have the money to travel, you have A LOT of money.  Well, in relation to the yearly income of an average Indian family, yes, I do have A LOT of money.  In relation to the rest of the U.S., I do not have a A LOT of money.  I funded this trip off an insurance settlement I received last year and cashing out a small retirement account from an old job.  I had several kind friends, who through their contributions, also helped make this trip possible.

Here is what I do know.  I will be returning to India next year.  I would like to spend at least three months there, maybe more.  I would like to teach English again, but I would also like to work on a documentary project about the Salesians and the work they do in India.  Everyone has a story to tell and I think there is quite a story to be told about this group of Salesian priests, brothers, and sisters.