A few months ago my friend Fr. Saby of the Diocese of Baroda called up to invite me to celebrate Easter at his mission in a remote corner of south Gujarat. I readily agreed.
Fr. Saby, along with two other priests (one is a senior priest in residence), live in the village of Relva, about 140 km south of Baroda, in Narmada District of Gujarat State. The nearest town, Dediapada is 18 km away. The Catholic Church has a presence here dating back three or four decades, when a Spanish Jesuit started the mission at Relva (the Spanish Jesuits are owed a huge debt for their pioneering work in Gujarat state). A sizeable community of Christians (a few thousand, if I recall correctly, according to Father) now exists, mainly from the Vasava Bhil tribe, in the surrounding villages. In Relva itself, there is a boarding school ("ashram shala" in Gujarati), which houses 380 children.
The Vasavas still live a traditional life of agriculture, cattle herding or even hunting-gathering. India's tribals are not Hindus, though they were often considered so by both the British and later Indian officials. They are outside the Hindu caste structure, and their religious system is animistic. However, the process of Hinduization has also taken place here, and has only accelerated with the rise of Hindu nationalism in the past few decades. There has been an huge openness to the Gospel across the subcontinent in India's tribal belts. The district of Dangs, further south, has a big Christian tribal population, both Catholic and Protestant.
Father had told me the liturgy would be in Gujarati, so I had borrowed a Gujarati Missal from a kind priest in Baroda, in order to practice! Though I speak the language at home, it has never been a language of prayer for me, and I don't know any serious Christian vocabulary in it! I prayed hard to prepare a good homily!
|Driving through little villages like this ...|
|The men leading the procession to the church|
Mass itself was held outside, in a covered area, brightly decorated and festooned with tinsel and garlands. Several hundred people awaited our arrival, the women seated on one side of the aisle, the men on another. The people sit through Mass, and, a little more disconcertingly for me, the priests offer Mass sitting down as well. There is a makeshift, decorated table that serves as an altar, and the priests sit in chairs behind it. This is an approved liturgical adaptation, it seems, for inculturated Masses in India. Like any good religious gathering in India, the microphone system was connected to giant speakers so that the sound would carry to at least five villages :-). The singing at Mass was all in the traditional Indian bhajan style. I couldn't make out the words at all, but it was lively, and everyone joined in. I managed to pray the Mass and read everything decently, and even eked out a short homily (folks were very kind about it later). Fr. Saby and his fellow mission priest, Fr. Nawsa, concelebrated, and helped me with the Missal.
|The brightly decorated altar, with the offertory "table" in front of it (picture taken after Mass)|
Prior to the Liturgy of the Word, a short hymn was sung, and the Lectionary was brought up in procession. I recognized the word "Bible." The English word was used. I was surprised. I would have expected dharmashastra, given the propensity to translate everything into a Hindu idiom. (In the Gujarati translation of the ancient Syro-Malabar liturgy, even the biblical and venerable amen has not been spared, and is rendered with the Sanskrit tathastu. I was incensed when I heard about this the first time. There is no precedence for this: everywhere, everyone says amen! But, I digress ... )
At the offertory, Father asked me to wait. The custom of the people is to line up and come to the altar, and offer their gifts -- i.e. their offering -- in the daan peti (collection box) placed in front of the altar! It was actually very moving -- everyone came up, the men first, then the women, and also children. Father had said that though they are poor, the people give generously.
|Photo of the newly blessed chapel, the Carmelgirimata deval: Chapel of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel|
|The faithful line up to the venerate the Crucifix in the new chapel. (There's no altar!)|
|Three of the five Carmelite sisters in attendance|
Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful, who receive under both kinds, via intinction. I let the other two priests distribute, while I tried not to melt. It was incredibly hot (daytime highs are regularly in the low 100s nowadays). I was in my alb and chasuble, and my handkerchief was soaked, and nasty well before Mass was over.
|Priests, religious and catechists being feted after Mass by the village leadership|
|"Cultural program" i.e. Bollywood music, underway!|
|Well loved lay catechist giving his testimony and thanks|
|Even here, cell phones are ubiquitous. And of course, it would be the little brothers who're recording their sisters' dances on the phone!|
|The three priests after Mass.|
Links to previous posts on the Church in Gujarat:
A five-part interview with my friend Fr. Jose Panadan SJ on the Church in Gujarat, and the caste-missions of North Gujarat (2008)
A visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Camels in 2010 in Mehsana Dist. in N. Gujarat (on my old semianry blog)
My first experience of Mass in Gujarati (New Year's Day, 2006)
PS: I've deliberately attempted to refrain from liturgical commentary in this post. I need to learn a little more about the principles of inculturation, and various perspectives on it, before I can offer any commentary that is anything more than just subjective opinion stemming from taste. I've done that enough already in posts in the past, and on FB.