Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Christian mission in Gujarat

Map of Gujarat showing district boundaries and major missions. Scanned from The History of the Catholic Church in Gujarat, by Fr. Carlos Suriá SJ. © 1990. Gujarat Sahitya Prakash. Anand.

Over the past few days, I have had the pleasure to share the company of Fr. Jose Panadan SJ, a Jesuit of the Gujarat Province from western India, who is in the United States on a brief visit. Fr. Jose* is the brother-in-law of a close friend from college. He works as a missionary in the northern part of Gujarat, and we have had several far-ranging as well as deep conversations about mission today. He agreed to sit down for an interview for the blog, conducted late into the night over three evenings, over several cups of chai.

For me it has been an eye-opening experience, to learn so much, in great detail, about the life of the Church in Gujarat, my "home state" (i.e. the state my parents hail from). We lived in Gujarat for only three years while I was growing up, and, as a convert (I was baptized at the age of 21 in Bombay; not in Gujarat), I am not at all familiar with the Church in the state.

In addition, I have learned a great deal more about the social and cultural realities of poor and low-caste Indians, a world that is far more alien to me than anything that I have experienced as an immigrant in the United States.

Finally, what has been most moving for me, has been to get an opportunity to learn some basic Christian prayers in Gujarati**, my "mother-tongue" (though by no means my first language, which is English): the Sign of the Cross, the Our Father and the Haily Mary.

The interview is detailed and fills over 11 pages in a Word document. I am breaking it up into the following five parts:

1) Breaking bread with the broken: a missionary's vocational journey
2) An overview of the Church in Gujarat
3) The "caste-missions" of north Gujarat
4) Challenges: inculturation
5) Challenges: discipleship & evangelization.

*Fr. Jose has chosen to use his real name. It is pronounced with the "j" as in "jam", and rhymes with "rose." Appearances notwithstanding, it is not a Spanish name.

** Fr. Jose is from the southern state of Kerala, in the Catholic heartland. His native language is Malayalam. However, he is fluent in Gujarati, as well as English, and it has been a joy speaking Gujarati over the past few days!

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