THEY HAVE DEDICATED their lives to God and to their fellow men and women, following a life’s path of great renunciation. They are seven priests who, many decades ago, left behind the south of India to work as missionaries in the north of the country. A thousand miles and more from home, both in geographical terms and in terms of their faith, these priests may not have changed their country, but they did have to learn a new language and new customs. All along, and even in practical retirement, a priest’s love never retires.
Today, these valiant men are living in a small home for retired priests. But if their bodies have suffered the ravages of time, their spirits have not. They continue to burn with the desire remain faithful to their vocation to serve God in serving people—right up to the hour of their death.
“My mission has been and remains to suffer with Christ,” says Father Joseph Mattathilani, summing up a life marked by grave illnesses, including a brain tumor. “I was left paralyzed for months, and at one point they gave me just three days to live,” he explains. Yet he radiates peace and serenity, despite his fragile health. “My mother died when I was a child. Our Lady was the one to take care of me and bring me to the priesthood. I wanted to give my life for other people. The miracle was to get so much love back.” from other people.”
Speaking with some difficulty, Father George Theruvan recalls other sufferings. Now 87, he vividly recalls one of the attacks on his mission statino, when guerrillas put a pistol to his temple and he thought his last moment had come. “I began to pray and I offered my life to God, asking to be able to embrace this moment in peace. Those were two terrible hours. But then, after destroying everything, they left again.
“Not everyone welcomed us with open arms; many times we had to start over again. But all of us can truly say that it was worth the trouble and that we have been treated with great affection and gratitude by the ordinary people.”
“We travelled from one place to another, spending a night in each village, where we explained the Gospel and celebrated the sacraments,” recalls Father Sebastian Puthenpura. He also tells us about the beginnings of his missionary work. This priest, who just celebrated his 85th birthday, quickly discovered “that our work would have been in vain if we had not educated the women. The Church cannot progress without those who will be the future pillars of their society, namely the mothers,” he insists.
At that time it was not easy to convince the fathers to send their daughters to school, nor is it easy even today in the poorest rural areas in the north. By contrast, the south of India has had centuries of Christian tradition behind it.
But “always and in everything I find my support in the Lord,” Father Puthenpura adds. That was true even when ordinary cultural difficulties were exacerbated by the instability in the region due to the presence of terrorists and armed gangs. The priest recalls: “Once I went to a village where there were 11 girls and nobody was willing to send them to school; they thought it too dangerous. The school was empty. But then it occurred to me that Saint Joseph was the guardian of the Child Jesus and looked after him and cared for him. So I entrusted the school to his care—within two months we had 400 children.”
At 90, Father Aloysius Sequeira is the oldest of the group. “I became a priest because I wanted to be a missionary. To do so I travelled over 2000 miles to give my life for the people. I knew that the Lord would do the rest. This year I will complete my 60th year in the priesthood, and I have never regretted it even for a single day.”
These men have health problems now, especially conditions affecting their hearts, which seem to be worn down after having battled and cared so much for the simple ordinary people in so many villages and rural corners of the Dioceses of Patna and Buxar. Thanks to the Mass stipends our organization sends them, they are able to cover at least some of their medical expenses. They are immensely grateful to all our generous benefactors: “We are missionaries and we are on the front line, but you are supporting us from your own home countries with your prayers and your financial support, thanks to the Mass stipends. And so you too have become missionaries, so that we can work together for the glory of God.”
Our organization provides a significant part of its financial aid to priests in the poorest parts of the world (above all in Africa and Asia) in the form of Mass stipends, awarded for Masses said for the intentions of our benefactors. Some 1.5 million Masses are celebrated in this way each year—or one every 22 seconds. For places like the Archdiocese of Patna this represents an indispensable support, since in many such poor areas of the world the priests cannot count on the support of the people; on the contrary, they even have to support the laity.