A BLESSING ON GARO HILLS
Blessing of Garo Village Chapel in Khasi Hills
About 40 Capuchin friars who were participating in the ongoing formation program at the headquarters friary of Nirmala Matha Custody at Guwahati, Assam-Meghalaya, descended on the non-descript village of AMPHANGGRE on 10 December 2017 for the blessing of its newly built chapel and for the Holy Mass, giving a festive mood for the occasion. Obviously the villagers were overjoyed at the presence of a large number of Capuchins in their small hilly village. Children and elders alike heartily welcomed each one with a broad smile, warm hand shake, and the JISUNA RASONG (‘Praise be to Jesus Christ’) greeting on their lips, which are customary among Garo tribe in the north-eastern part of India.
AMPHANGGRE village is a part of the St. Francis of Assisi parish, BYRNIHAT, administered by the Capuchins of Nirmala Matha Custody since 1999. Br. Renny Velayapillil serves as the Parish Priest for the last five years with Br. Biju Adakapara as the co-pastor and Br. Sojan assisting them.
This large and vibrant parish in the Shillong Archdiocese, having 64 villages under its territory, is testimony to the hard work and missionary spirit of the young Capuchins of Nirmala Matha Custody. It’s a huge challenge to develop such parishes and communities spread over a vast area of tough terrain where the people belonging to different ethnic tribes speak different languages like KHASI, GARO, SANTALI, NEPALI and KARBI. What is common to all of them is their basic nature of simplicity, hospitality, and ecological sensitivity besides their Christian faith.
After the morning prayer, Br. Joachim Hangalo, the resource person for the ongoing formation program and the Vicar of the community of General Curia, Rome, initiated the inaugural service of the blessing by cutting the ribbon. Br. Francis (Prince) Valiyakunnel, the first Councillor of the Custody, assisted by Br. Charles Alphonse and Br. Francis Christi, both resource persons of the ongoing formation program and members of the international commission on formation, blessed the new chapel. Br. Valiyakunnel presided over the Holy Mass celebrated in the Garo language, joined by Br. Renny Velayapillil, parish priest, and Br. Brilliant Sangma, the first Capuchin priest from the Garo tribe, while all other friars concelebrated. The community wholeheartedly participated in the Eucharistic celebration with their beautiful music and customary offerings. Br. Renny gave an inspiring homily in flowing Garo language, thanking the good Lord for His blessings, thanking the people for their contribution and sacrifices, and thanking the friars for the presence, prayers and encouragement. The whole congregation shared the agape meals served after the Mass.
The chapel that was blessed in Ambanggre village is indeed a small and simple low cost structure. What makes it ‘big’ is the spirit of unity and collaboration among the 30 Catholic families who toiled hard and pooled their energy and meager resources to have their own place of worship. Almost 80% of the money for the chapel came from these 30 poor families who are mostly agricultural labourers. The role of women in this task is notable as many of them are poor labourers, having 3-6 children to take care of, and many are widows. Four women even obtained bank loan for the chapel construction. It is again a woman who is leading the community as the Catechist, organising prayer service on Sundays, teaching catechism to the children, and helping the community to grow in faith. The other 26 families in the village belong to the Presbyterian denomination. Even they came together to prepare meals for everyone who came for the blessing of the chapel. Such chapels are under construction in seven other villages. Many more villages have chapels with very simple structures made of bamboo walls, thatched roofs, and some with tin sheets.
For the friars who gathered from various circumscriptions spread throughout India, it was an enriching experience of participating in the missionary activity of the friars of North East India. They could feel the life of the villagers as well as that of the missionary friars, feeling the real smell of the sheep and that of the shepherds. They spent some time interacting with the villagers, sharing their joy and happiness, and returned to the friary in the afternoon, elated over this ‘missionary experience’.
Our sincere thanks to Br. Mathew Kallidical, the Custos of Nirmala Matha Custody, and the formation team, for arranging this visit as part of the ongoing formation program for formators.
Br. Jacob Kani
Krist Jyoti Province