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Don Bosco on Happy Voyage Meets the Lady of Bandel

By Fr. Jacob Iruppakkattu, SDB
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Kolkata, Jul. 15. While on voyage in the Salesian province of Kolkata, Don Bosco finally reached Bandel, a place so dear to his Salesians.  On 11th July, 2011 he visited the Basilica, Don Bosco School, Ferrando Convent, Auxilium Convent and Don Bosco Seminary.  Neither did he forget to bless those confreres in eternal sleep, while he passed through the Salesian cemetery, by the facade of the Basilica.
It was festival mood at Bandel, when Don Bosco arrived in the evening at Don Bosco School, from Kalyani.  A motorcade of his past pupils escorted him all the way from Kalyani Setu.  On reaching the venue, Don Bosco was thrilled to see the cultural fusion that was on - arati, floral homage, conch blow, incense, songs in Bengali, English, Hindi and Santali and dances to all types of rhythms, tunes - truly there was a festive aroma in the air!

Don Bosco was received by Fr. Thomas Gomes, the prior and Fr. VS Sebastian, the rector of Don Bosco.  He was led by the front of Don Bosco School, then by the side of the Fatima Garden towards the cemetery and later into the Basilica, along with five dance troupes dressed in their fineries. They danced to the traditional tunes, with the accompaniment of certain musical instruments which are not available in the market. It was a true feast to the eyes!

A solemn Holy Eucharist followed at 7.00 PM, presided over by Fr. Thomas Gomes and concelebrated by several priests.  Fr. Thomas, during the homily highlighted the death of Mr. Anselm Xalxo one the non-teaching staff of Don Bosco School and a parishioner, on the same day of the arrival of Don Bosco. Fr. Prior put in the right context the home going of Anselm with the home coming of Don Bosco.

The night vigil that followed was participated by Salesians, other religious, the seminarians, candidates and some parishioners.

On the following day, early in the morning, after the Eucharist at 6.00 AM Don Bosco was accompanied to Ferrando convent where the tiny tots carrying festive balloons, along with their parents were waiting for him. There was a mega festival of dances and songs.

Don Bosco was on time for the morning assembly in Don Bosco School, where the school students paid him a grand homage initially in total darkness, lit only by the LCD projector which displayed his glories as an educator.

The Sisters and students at Auxilium Convent were eagerly waiting at Don Bosco School gate to take home Don Bosco with a special treat of Indian and Western menu. The march past was perfectly timed, augmenting the solemnity of the occasion, merged with tableaus with street fight scenes, with school girls dressed in religious habits - it was just amazing!  The welcome dance that led Don Bosco into the convent premises was breathtaking, as the sun lit their already bright faces.  As he reached the facade, Don Bosco was given some moments of rest in the specially prepared floral and leafy canopy. Tributes by way of prayers and songs followed.

At 1.30 PM Don Bosco had to leave for the Basilica, as the village folk from the Santal mission area of Bandel who traversed a long distance, had an important appointment with him. Some of them had heard about him only just a year or two back.  However, they were fortunate to touch him, see him and hear his words uttered in their own language, with the help of Fr. Cyriac Manianchira, who presided over the Eucharist.

By the time the Eucharist ended, the students and teachers of St. John's School were already crowding outside the Shrine waiting to have a darshan of Don Bosco. The main church gate closes at 5.00 PM. At 4.00 PM long lines were seen for almost an hour, joined also by the general visitors to the shrine including Sisters and school children from Chandannagore, waiting to pay their respects to Don Bosco.

The day came to a close with the solemn Eucharist presided over by Fr. Thomas Ellicherail, the provincial of INC and other concelebrants.  Later, Don Bosco was taken to his seminary for a vigil service. Besides the confreres and the seminarians, the inmates of nearby religious institutions also participated in the service.

On 13th July, early in the morning, as the clouds were wafted away by the morning winds, a sunny way was paved for Don Bosco to Auxilium Barasat, and later to Auxilium Dum Dum.

All the Salesian Family communities at Bandel along with Sisters Adorers, Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate and the Missionaries of Charity were united in prayer for the event, and they were generous with their presence, to the one whose presence in the campus has been since 1928.

A historian would chronicle the two day event of Don Bosco's visit as something important, since Bandel shrine was exchanged for the Church at Thanjavur, where the first Salesian missionaries in India had ministered.

Visualizing the scene of Don Bosco in Bandel Basilica, one was reminded of the confreres of happy memory, who before their final departure lay in state in the same manner and in the same spot where Don Bosco stood today - indeed a perfect bonding with our dear departed too!
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