At 6:25pm I pulled up in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Rosary here in Baroda, the place I normally go for Mass. The church was dark and the doors were locked. "Uh oh!" Not a good sign! I wandered around the grounds -- some kids were playing in the field at the school next door, but there was no other sign of life. The board very clearly lists a mass at 6:30 pm in English. Eventually, I found a security guard ("watchman" in Indian parlance). "Oh Mass today is at Jeevandarshan" he says. "What's that?" "It's over there in Fatehgunj." Darn. Guess I missed the memo. I get some (in good Indian fashion) very imprecise directions -- "oh over there, just ahead of that petrol pump" [i.e. gas station]. "Near Lehripillar Hospital," which I've never heard of. I launch back into the traffic melée. Several petrol pumps and one helpful rickshawallah later, I end up at the hospital, whose proper name turns out to be "Our Lady of Pilar Hospital." Ah, Spanish missionaries at work again I see! (The most impressive Shrine of Our Lady of Pilar is in Zaragoza in Spain) "Is there Mass here?" "Yes ... at the Shrine ... just on the other side of that building."
The first thing I see as I turn the corner is an open space with a colonial style church in the middle -- St. James Church, CNI (Church of North India). Lots of cars parked outside, but not much going on inside that I could see. And then just a little ahead, a sign points to the left, "Our Lady of the Forsaken." Another Spanish import, devotion to her being popular in Valencia.
I park the car and walk into a large open ground, which is full of worshippers. A stage is set up at one end, with a bank of concelebrating priests sitting on plastic chairs, while one is standing at the altar preaching. Darn, I missed the Gospel! However, I need to be here, and most especially, I need to receive Communion. I trust that the Lord will not hold the deficiences in my piety against me. I find a place towards the back, against the back wall of the ground, next to a tree and a pile of firewood. (Yes, firewood! They take "winter" seriously!) There's easily a thousand people here, the chairs are completley full and hundreds are lined along the back, filling most open spaces.
The homily is in a flowerly and polished Gujarati that I generally associate with TV. I catch the tail end, about emulating the qualiteis of Mata Mariyam, Mother Mary. And something about today's youth being interested only in mobiles (i.e. cell phones) and SMSing (i.e. sending text-messages).
This is only the second time I've been to Mass in Gujarati. I don't know any of the prayers or responses, so I use English. No one really seems to be responding anyway, and the songs, which, but for the words, could have been bhajans at an aarti or puja anywhere, are sung solely by the choir it seems.
Most uncharacteristically, I find myself getting impatient, as the Eucharistic prayer progresses. I'm waiting for Paramprasad, the "Supreme Prasad," Holy Communion. At the end of this week -- which is barely the beginning of my journey here in this dark moment -- I am exhausted and drained. I try to recall a time since my Baptism that I've hungered so much for the Eucharist.
For Communion an army of sisters and young priests and seminarians spread out from the altar. I receive, aware so strongly of my own weakness and pride and inadequcy, most gratefully.
Just before the final blessing, the main celebrant asks the people to remember his advince from the homily. "We need to focus on those qualities," he says, and then, in a beautiful voice, launches into an undulating refrain, "Amhe to ekla javana re." "Because we will be leaving [this world] alone." I freeze. I've no idea what he really means.
After the blessing, I join the masses thronging the circular concrete building which houses the Shrine, reaching out over the crowds (I am by far the tallest person around. At 6'3" I tower over most of my countrymen, especially in Gujarat), and touch the glass enclosing the statue of Our Lady, and pray a heartfelt "Hail Mary."
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.