Father Ceyrac often repeated this phrase: "we will remember this planet for a long time!"
We could say the same about our visit to Kandhamal district, which leaves an unforgettable memory in our hearts. I have never seen landscapes so beautiful, mountains as sumptuous but especially Christian communities as fervent!
The purpose of our mission in this Christian District (85%) of Orissa, located 900 km south of Calcutta, was to respond to the Archbishop of Bhubaneswar's call by participating in the youth camp, testifying of our vocation to 257 adolescents and with the hope of gathering among them consecrated vocations.
The Orissa, the 9th largest state in India renamed Odisha since November 2011, is 80% occupied by tribal people living in the mountains, away from civilization. These people live in the forest in conditions of extreme poverty, among them there are various castes including Adivasis and Dalits. The district of Kandhamal is the most mountainous of Orissa since some peaks reach 1100 meters. In villages, people come together and live in a community that shares everything they have. The government is content to offer 2 kg of rice and 1 kg of wheat per family per month. Over a century ago, European missionaries came to bring the Gospel to Kandhamal, one of the most important districts of Orissa. Today the vast majority of these tribal people are Christians of all confessions. These Missionaries have left everything, given everything: their youth, their energy to bring the treasure of the Faith. Many died very young. At Christmas 2007, then in 2008, a Hindu fundamentalist group arrived on these lands to massacre Christians, killing priests and pastors, raping sisters, pillaging a large number of villages, destroying clinics and medical centers. By whole families, the population of the tribes had to flee in the mountain to escape the massacres. They wandered in the jungle of days and nights without any food. Today, there are still threats to this defenseless population. Where persecutions are rife vocations ... So this Sunday, May 1, Nasim, Akash and I took our staff of Pilgrim to get us in this state, live an extraordinary experience, a tour at the end of the world: 7 hours of train from Calcutta to reach Bhubaneswar, capital of Orissa. The Archbishop himself received us in Bhubaneswar, and told us how to proceed to the Kandhamal Jungle. And our adventure continued with 10 hours of bus to reach the village of Balliguda, where was the youth camp. The camp brought together 257 young graduates wishing to join a Christian community to become a "Brother" among one of 19 who came to present their program, from all over central India. Nasim, Akash and I presented the Pilgrim Mission of Charity ... and 17 young people came to meet us to join us! Then we went to the villages to visit the families of each boy. This is where it all began: Endless journeys on broken roads, for tens of kilometers in "hairpin". These are hours to travel dirt roads in rotten buses and out of age ... In the end we had to finish our race, fresh, walk for the last 10 or 15 km on improbable trails.
Impossible course without the help, to guide us, of a boy of 22 years met at the camp. Arriving finally at nightfall: the comforting spectacle of the villages exceeded a hundredfold all that we could hope for. We were welcomed everywhere as maharajah! Each family invites us to share their life. This happiness of sharing made us forget the lack of comfort and the lack of sanitary facilities ... Christians from all confessions, Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, met at night at 6 pm in procession to pray. All prayed with one heart, one soul: It was truly a new Pentecost!
The summit was reached on Sunday: We were in the small tribal village of Simon Bari, in the middle of the jungle, and the inhabitants asked us to organize a celebration for a family in a small mud hut of 6 meters by 5 meters. We were expecting a celebration of a few people but, to our surprise, we found inside a crowd of fifty colorful people, the women resplendent in their brightly colored saris. A makeshift altar had been erected, and instruments sang and danced. I have never experienced such a moving celebration! Coming from different tribes and confessions, we were united by one heart. God was really at work! These meetings with each family were an opportunity not only to present our project to the boy and his parents but also to discover the "roots" of those who wanted to join us. In front of the requirement of our vocation, 10 of the 17 boys interested, decided to join us in Calcutta on June 15th, for a month of "come and see" then ... let us see! Another emotion: a 15-year-old boy told us: "I want to be a P.C. Now!" as we told him that he was a little too young and had to wait, he burst into tears! He repeated, "I want to be a Pilgrim of Charity right now". To console him we suggested to him to do as Thérèse of Lisieux: Go to Rome to ask the Pope permission to enter the religious life from 15 years! Brother Chapeau: A little Brother who had come from another state to live this camp was remarkable for his guitar and his beautiful straw hat. It is even said that he slept with! Nayak, you said Nayak ... (note: likely allusion to the film the hero or Nayak of Satyajit Ray 1994) By taking the inscriptions we give thanks to God! Here is a brief summary of what we experienced during a week. It was for me like a "renewal in the Holy Spirit", being sometimes too installed in my comfort of Calcutta. No history: The experience of Poverty it decapses!
Your Brother and Friend François - Marie P.C