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Paul Vadakumpadan, Guwahati says,
LETTER FROM AMERICA (contd.)
By Fr. Paul Vadakumpadan SDB
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Guwahati, Feb. 15. (Fr. Paul Vadakumpadan continues his reflections on his recent visit to America to preach mission appeals.)

What the Newspapers do not See

Reading some of our newspapers and magazines, one gets the idea that it is high time to write off the Church in many parts of the materially developed world. I wonder if the journalists who write such articles have ever been to a church in a highly advanced country like the US.

After visiting America, I must confess that the faith is alive and the Church is far from the verge of disappearance.  One indication is the substantial numbers of people who attend Mass regularly and receive the sacraments. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament round the clock is not likely in a church that is dying. I found several churches where such a practice has been going on for years.  And now even vocations are picking up. The Salesians in New Jersey where I was staying organized a vocation camp (not vacation camp, mind you). No less than 28 college boys attended it. That is most encouraging.

Unfortunately for many of our journalists including those belonging to reputed organizations like the BBC, news value is in direct proportion to scandal value, at least in matters pertaining to the Church.  What is bad is what makes news, what is good is to be ignored. So the media gloats over scandals especially if it has to do with age old human weaknesses. I`m inclined to believe that men and women who are fixated on such problems are likely to be indulging in the projection of their own personal experience. Moreover such scandal reporting has high commercial value.

As a small time publisher, I have realized that publishing good news is commercially very bad news indeed. But that need not make the good news any less good. I remember with joy the several Masses I celebrated in the richer parts of the world, always with a good number of people attending. Perhaps churches were not packed like in many parts of India but the faith there is far from dead. Would that the prophets of doom also attended church occasionally! They would have a better picture of what is happening.

To people who are busy writing the obituary of the Church, I would like to say what a famous writer said when some newspapers reported he was dead: ``Reports of my death are grossly exaggerated.``


The Roman Collar

Philadelphia is the capital of the American state of Pennsylvania. I was sent to do a mission appeal in a parish in this renowned city. All the missionaries doing mission appeals were specifically asked to wear a Roman collar. So I reached Phili (as it is popularly called) in my clerical attire. There was a communication gap. A priest had come to fetch me from the bus stand. I landed up somewhere else.

There I was in the heart of a renowned city but as far as I was concerned it was the middle of nowhere.  More was in store. My attempts at contacting the local parish made me realize that using public phones was much easier in poorer countries like India than in richer countries. My guardian angel whispered in my ear that in some situations the best thing to do is to do nothing.  So I simply stood there on the road with my suitcase, in appearance every inch a well dressed clergyman.

The attempt paid off, faster and better than expected. After a few minutes of waiting, a gentleman came to inquire what was wrong. Seeing my predicament, he spoke on his own phone to the parish concerned explaining where I was. These are simple things for local people to do, but somewhat difficult for a stranger, however knowledgeable he may be.  Within a short time I was rescued.

That short time turned out to be truly fruitful from the pastoral point of view. I have heard much about street preaching and roadside evangelism. I had an opportunity to do something similar at the centre of that renowned city of Philadelphia. I asked the gentleman who came to my help if he were a Catholic. ``I used to be,`` he replied. Then he narrated the story of his faith and where he stood at the moment. It was a sad story. I was touched. I told him he was a Good Samaritan to me. I saw his face lighting up.

I never met him again. I prayed for him. I hope and pray he has found his way back to the Church even as he helped me find my way to the local parish church to do the work that was assigned to me. Even in the highly secularized western world, there is always a window of opportunity to share the faith. That is mission.

Maximum and Minimum

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at 2 AM. I looked at the time again. Was it AM or PM? Both would be tough. But AM would be more challenging than PM. Yes it was AM and the list was already signed up.

I was deeply impressed to see in the US, parishes where they hold adoration of the Blessed Sacrament 24x7. In one parish that I visited the practice has been going on for 30 years, in another 20 years. It was amazing to see people signing up for adoration even at such hours as 2 AM and 3 PM.

There may be people who limit their religious observance to Sunday mass, that too with difficulty. I would call them the minimum people. By the same standard those who come for adoration at 2 AM must be following the principle of maximum. Once while attending a retreat the case of a student caught my attention, all for the wrong reason. Although it was retreat time he seemed to be keeping a respectable distance from the chapel. When the bell sounded he would march in and out he went as soon as the function got over. Obviously he followed a minimum policy.

The problem with this policy is that a relationship with God, with a minimum policy can end up in nothing. In fact this student I am referring to studied for the priesthood, was ordained but left the ministry within one year. For me he was a text book case of one wanting to get the maximum and willing to give the minimum. No wonder his priesthood lasted less than a year.

The words of Jesus ``sell all you have ... come and follow me`` is a loving invitation to give of my very best and all I have. And think it over, the Lord is not outdone in generosity.

Google

Last year there was an unfortunate controversy over an English bishop. I remember a commentator at that time  saying  that if the Vatican officials dealing with the case had googled this man, many problems could have been avoided.  While I was very familiar with google, the use of the term google someone was quite new to me. Little did I realize that this new knowledge was going to be of great help to me soon.

While doing the mission appeals in the US, I went to the Canadian consulate in New York, to get a tourist visa for that country. I was interviewed by a consular official. He looked at the papers I presented and told me in unfriendly fashion, ``I am not convinced.``

At that moment my guardian angel inspired me to put to use my new knowledge. So I told him, ``If you are not convinced, you can google me.`` It appeared to me that even he was not quite used to hearing such a challenge.  He immediately accepted my request and hit the right  buttons on the key board in front of him. Most of the titles of my publications are on  google. I invited him to look up also missiontoday.org where even more information was available. I saw a smile in his face. His next comment was, ``I am convinced.`` He even expressed appreciation for the high quality of Mission Today website and the large amount of material we had on the net.  Needless to say he issued the necessary visa.

Words, we are told, fly but writing remains. Now thanks to the internet what you write not only remains but also flies to the whole world.

The conclusion of the story is ``please send news and reflections for Newsline.`` You may even end up on the google. And if you have access to the internet (and there is also current in your locality, is the electricity department listening?) please visit occasionally missiontoday.org. After  all even a high official in New York, of all places,  was impressed by it.

Fr. Paul Vadakumpadan SDB
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