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The Diocesan Process For The Canonization Of Fr. Constantine Vendrame Concludes In Shillong


By Archbishop Dominic Jala SDB
Guwahati, Feb. 24. On 19th February, the Diocesan Process of Inquiry into the life and virtues of Salesian Missionary Father Constantine Vendrame was brought to a conclusion in Mawlai Parish, Shillong Archdiocese. The simple yet solemn function was presided over by Archbishop Dominic Jala, sdb. Present were members of the Diocesan tribunal that conducted the inquiry. Nine representatives from the home place of Fr. Vendrame, in San Martino di Colle Umberto, Treviso brought together the Church of the Diocese of Vittorio Veneto and that of the Archdiocese of Shillong where Fr. Vendrame spent most of his missionary life.  Various other persons who spoke highlighted the significance of the figure of Fr. Vendrame who was one of the most successful missionaries in the Congregation and whose holiness of life has been testified by those who knew him or eve heard of him.
Fr. Constantine Vendrame (1893-1957) is a household word among the Khasis in Northeast India. His missionary feats have become legends among the people. He toured the length and breadth of the Khasi-Pnar land and reached out even to the remotest villages. His zeal for soul was proverbial and his love for the Kingdom of God made him undergo willingly every form of sacrifice, physical, mental and psychological. At his death in 1957 it was said that he died of over exhaustion. Every bone and sinew of his had been fully consumed for the spreading of the Gospel.

Constantine Vendrame was born at San Martino di Colle Umberto, in the region of Treviso, Italy on 27th August 1893. His parents Pietro and Elena Fiori were very devout catholics. On 15th September 1913 he joined the Salesian novitiate at Ivrea. Having completed already his study of philosophy, he was sent to do his regency in the oratory of Chioggia. After this he went for a four-year compulsory service in the military, an experience which seasoned his life with courage and endurance. At the termination of his military service, he pursued his theological formation while working simultaneously in the oratories of Chioggia and Venice. On 15th March 1924 he was ordained a priest by Cardinal Eugenio Tosi at the chapel of the major seminary of Milan. His desire to be a frontline missionary of Christ was finally realized when he received the missionary crucifix at the feet of Mary Help of Christians on 5th October 1924.

Young Vendrame arrived in Shillong on December 23, 1924. As soon as he set foot in the mission, he took to studying the language with great earnestness and mastered it in an astonishingly short period of time. Since the time he took up the parishes of Shillong, the baptismal register showed a steady increase in number each year. Thus within a short period of five years (1926-1931) the number of Catholics had increased from a mere 400 to 1449 and the number of centres had gone up to 105.

In 1939, he was transferred to Jowai Parish to work among the Pnars. Even here he displayed his ever untiring zeal for the Gospel. He endeared himself to the Pnar people irrespective of their religions or denominations. Within three years of his stay in Jowai (1939-1941), he was able to bring a large number of souls to the Church.

When World War II started in 1939, Fr. Vendrame along with all 150 other Italian missionaries were put in the concentration camp. In 1945 after the war Fr. Vendrame was asked by Mrg. Louis Mathias to go to Wandiwash in North Arcot (Yercaud).  During his days there he found himself among peoples of different cultures than that of the Khasis. Yet his missionary zeal was not affected. He dedicated his heart and soul to evangelizing among the Hindus and Moslems. He learned the Tamil language and endeared himself to many people.

After his return from Arcot in 1951, he was assigned to Mawkhar which was at that time the stronghold of the Methodists. No catholic priest could walk through this area without being insulted or even being threatened. It is unbelievable that at the death of Fr. Vendrame this area had 2000 catholics already.

Fr. Vendrame's zeal for souls was something admirable. Mgr. Louis Mathias commenting about him said ''he was our St. Francis Xavier''. Mr. Mullan who was an officer of the central government, said that he was reminded of St. Paul whenever he would see Fr. Vendrame. Fr. Vendrame's preoccupation was always to preach the Gospel of Christ. While in the villages he would seldom sleep but would spend his time catechizing the people. Whoever he met on the road he would invariably ask ''are you a Catholic?''. If the person said no, then he would begin to talk to him or to her about Christ. At times the persons would ask for baptism and he would baptize them on the road side.

A man with rich qualities of head, heart and soul, he was a man deeply dedicated to prayer. He had a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which he also propagated widely in all the missions where he worked. In approaching the people, he had that personal style that made him spend almost ever entire day visiting homes of people. This is what won hearts for Christ.  He promoted various apostolic groups And like a true Salesian reached out to families through the young people whom he gathered in festive oratories.
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