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African Missionary Alumnus Addresses the SHTC

By Fr. Joy Kachappilly SDB
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Shillong, Aug. 27. Fr James Pulickal, an Indian missionary working in East Africa for the past 34 years addressed the Staff and the Students of Sacred Heart Theological College, Mawlai on Monday, 25th August. He shared his experiences as a hostage in the hands of extremists, the demands of a missionary life in Africa, his own spiritual struggle when faced with negative experiences, and a snapshot of Christian presence in South Sudan.
Hailing from the Southern Indian State of Kerala, Fr James joined the Salesian Province of Guwahati from the days of his initial formation and after completing his theological studies at Sacred Heart Theological College, he opted to work in the Salesian Missions of Africa in 1980. For the most part of his long period of missionary life, he was in Sudan.  

During his hour-long address, Fr James recalled the painful experiences he went through when he was kept in captivity for 18 months by a rebel group that was fighting against the then Sudanese Government.

After the initial struggles and untold sufferings that made him even to question God and His plans, he slowly learnt to surrender himself to God in complete trust after reflecting deeper on Jesus, who was rejected and crucified by his own people.  This, he claims, gave him serenity of mind and helped him to accept his sufferings with great resignation.

He spent the remaining part of his captivity in complete renunciation and was able to bear witness to Christ.  In fact, the captors themselves saw in him a beacon of hope and inspiration in realizing their goal.

After his release, though he was advised to leave the country,he decided to remain back. ''Whatever happens I will stick there. It is my Nazareth,'' averred Fr James.

As a missionary in Africa and more especially in Sudan, Fr James outlined some of the major problems that a missionary like him could face.  He said that when a missionary leaves his own known environment to an unknown land, he can lose the sense of  'collectedness' that he experienced so far with his own confreres and has to begin everything anew. However, what sustains him in moments of loneliness, misunderstandings and sufferings is a rock-like faith in God, ''the rock of Israel, the rock of refuge, the rock of deliverance, an everlasting rock.''

Fr James presented a rather grim picture of the Catholic presence in South Sudan.  Vocations to priestly and religious life are rare. The aftermath of civil war coupled with irresponsible parenting have ruined the basic fabric of family. Hence the missioners need to exercise patience, endure hardships and promote family life without becoming pessimistic so that the Church can grow vibrant in this part of the world.  

Earlier, Fr Paul Vadakumpadan sdb, Professor of Missiology and a companion of Fr James initiated the proceedings by introducing the missionary. The programme concluded with a brief question-answer session.  
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