KOLKATA, (C.M. Paul) – The Central American country of Guatemalais drawing much interest in Kolkata province as another young priest is set to leave for the same destination to which the first Indian Salesian missionary set off 45 years ago.
Fr George (Jorge) Puthenpura born in Kerala made his first profession at Sunnyside Shillong in 1960, a year after Guwahati province was bifurcated from Kolkata province in 1959. After his philosophy studies at Salesian College Sonada (Darjeeling) and practical training in India, Fr Puthenpura did theological studies in Barcelona, Spain. He was ordained priest in March 1970, and became the first missionary ad gentes from India to Guatemala.
Seven years after his arrival inGuatemala, in 1977, he founded the “Congregation of the Sisters of the Resurrection,” which in 2004 became the 22nd group of the Salesian Family. Today the Congregation he founded has more than 50 professed sisters and some 30 novices, in 10 communities and 3 dioceses, and working in over 400 villages.
The characteristic of this Congregation is the missionary spirit, and the fact that all the Sisters are indigenous. The language of the congregation is Quekchí, a dialect of Mayan origin, the most widely spoken language in the Region of the Alta Verapaz, where his mission San Pedro Carchá is to be found.
This year, four Indian provinces are sending seven missionaries to overseas missions in the upcoming 142nd Missionary commissioning from Valdocco, 25 September 2011. It will have 30 Salesians and five Caritas Sisters of Jesus from Korea, Japan and Brazil. Of this there are three Indian Salesian missionaries of the earlier groups who have not attended the missionary course. They are 27 year old scholastic Simon Nongrum of Guwahati now working in Belgium North and 25 year old scholastic Suresh Ekka of Guwahati now working inBulgaria, and 39 year old Fr. Jacinto Dias of Panjim province working in South Africa Province since 2007.
Leading among the Indian provinces in this year’s missionary course is Tiruchy province with four confreres (Arockiam Thomas John – 30 year old scholastic for Middle East, Raj Arockiam Mariasusai – 43 year old priest forNetherlands (BelgiumNorthProvince), Rajan Pushparaj – 43 year old priest for Austria and John Paul Swamy (Swaminathan) – 24 year old scholastic assigned to France. Remaining three confreres are one each from Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata provinces.
Chennai province Fr Alphonse Arulnadam – 41 year old priest is assigned toIreland while Bangalore province Mathew Valiyakattel (Nice) – 24 year old scholastic is assigned to the Middle East, and 33-year old Fr Shiju James Thottupurathu from Kolkata is assigned toGuatemala.
The Indian contribution to this year’s international missionary group is just seven confreres from four (out of 10) provinces.
That is a far cry from the challenge Rector Major put forward to Indian provinces during the centenary celebrations of the arrival of Salesians in India. In 2006, the Rector Major put a challenge to the ten Indian provinces saying, “I need three confreres from each province every year for mission ad gentes”– ie., 30 missionaries!
Kolkata province Mission delegate Fr Sebastian Thekkel has a scathing take on that. He says, “there is a general decline in our missionary spirit and enthusiasm… I find that there are not enough priests who want to be ‘ministers of word and sacraments’. Faith in the sacraments and its value in the Salesian Educational System are decaying because some do not use it or some do not want to hear about it. Some of us have ‘left our homes and fishing nets’ to search for a ‘better catch.’ [Often] not as ‘fishers of people.’”
The General Councilor for Missions Fr Vaclav Klement is of the opinion that, the second Consulta’ of the Salesian Missions (2010, Sept) with additional in puts from General Councilor for Formation Fr Cereda, the first draft of the Missionary Formation of the SDB will help set in motion a new wave of missionary enthusiasm in the congregation.
Meanwhile, Guwahati Province, has scheduled the official opening of Sirajuli Missionary aspirantate, on 22 November, 2011. It is the “IVREA – Istituto Cardinal Cagliero” missionary aspirantate of India.
Fr Vaclav adds complimenting the timely effort, “thanks for the passionate contribution to start a new missionary formation tradition in India, the most dynamic region of the Congregation at present time.”
The “Assam Missions” marks 90 years in 2012.