Thursday, July 27, 2006

St. Pius College, Bombay

(That's Pope St. Pius X.) The Archdiocesan Seminary. (No website) On Aarey Road in Goregaon (E). On Monday a week ago (my last day in Bombay), I went out to visit a good friend of mine, a Jesuit priest, who teaches at the Seminary. I've known Fr. K for years now, from back when he was a Deacon assigned to Station Parish (Our Lady of Perpetual Help, right across from the main railway station. One grew used to the train horns during Mass) in Pune, and worked with the youth group (that was the year I was taking formal classes to prepare for Baptism, from a Dutch missionary of the Mill Hill congregation). One memorable trip was to visit the little village of Jejuri, a pilgrimage center for the popular local god Khandoba. It's there that K said something that I still remember. "Hinduism deifies everything. Except one's fellow human being!" K later studied in the US, and I got to visit him there as well.

Seminarians playing carom

St. Pius is situated on a large, green, tree-covered plot, not too far from Goregaon Station, on a long winding driveway away from the noise of Aarey Rd. (a major E-W thoroughfare in the northwest. It passes the Western Express Hwy to go on to the Aarey Dairy, and, if I'm not mistaken, is also one of the access points to Film City, the heart of Bollywood.) K is waiting to greet me, and takes me up to a cafeteria for some chai and Shrewsbury biscuits (just sent over from the nuns at the hill resort of Mathearn!). As we chat, several of the faculty (all priests) come in and out and join us for a bit, including one of the Auxiliary Bishops (who also teaches here). There's a lot of curiosity about the Church in the US. A few priests who've been there comment appreciatively about the vibrancy that they've encountered (one compares it to France where he'd been most recently).

[Incidentally, no one wears a Roman collar. Black is oppresive in India. I've only seen a priest in a Roman collar once -- on stage, during last month's celebration honoring Cardinal Dias. He was the MC (the priest, not the Cardinal!), if I recall correctly. Most priests wear street clothes, or white cassocks. The swish of a white cassock on the long halls of St. Xavier's College, my alma mater, is almost legendary! Many Jesuits also have their own informal uniform of a kurta over trousers or jeans and sandals. This is also the stereotypical outfit of generally progressive NGO types and social workers, called jholawallas after the regulation jhola or cloth bag, slung from the shoulder. This was my uniform in college and what I wear most of the time, minus the jhola [I've graduated to a backpack!], in India.]

Crucifix on the main altar of the chapel. The chapel is from the 1950s. Bright and worshipful. The mosaics of the Last Supper are pretty good too!

K had asked me to talk about my spiritual journey to two of his classes. I spend a few minutes in his room putting my thoughts together. About 40 or so students (and a couple of faculty, including a genial old Jesuit from Barcelona) show up, almost all seminarians, with a couple of religious sisters and one laywoman. I stick to the timetable -- 25 minutes of talking followed by Q&A. I thought it was generally well received. The questions were about my own story, ("What do your family and relatives think?") or about the US ("are the youth engaged with the Church?" "what is formation like in US seminaries?" [Like I know!]). I thought it a little strange that suddenly I was the spokesman for the Catholic Church in the United States!

The main chapel. A bunch of seminarians were practising. They sounded good! Now if only such singing went to the parishes ... :)

I joined the seminarians and faculty for lunch -- preceded by the Angelu and the blessing. Faculty and students sit together in groups of a dozen or so scattered across a large airy hall. The food was simple but nutritious and filling, and I took a huge helping of crispy Bombay Duck (No, it's not fowl).

After lunch and the obligatory walk around the gardens (must be a custom in Indian seminaries -- the driveway at the Jesuit formation house in Pune, De Nobili College, was full of perambulating seminarians after a meal!) we went back up to K's room and solved the various problems plaguing the church and society. Satisfied that the world would be so much better if we were in charge, I took a rick back to Goregaon Station.

Icon gifted to the Seminary by Pope John Paul II on his visit in 1986.

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