A Catholic in India Looking for a Parish

November 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Sunday September 22 , 2013       A Catholic in India


I asked my driver if he knew where St Mary’s Church and Loyola College were.  He said “Sure, Sure”.

I think what that means is “No, but I will figure it out.  Not to worry.”   I live in Hyderabad, but it has a twin city, Secunderabad where both St Mary’s and Loyola are located.  I hoped to attend Mass at St Mary’s since a retired  expat Anglican priest had strongly recommended it.  I also wished to visit Loyola to find out if the Jesuits have a Mass on their college campus.   I asked my driver to pick me up at 8:30 since St Mary’s was supposed to be 30-45 minutes away.  It is a broad range of time given that you will never know what the traffic will be.  He picked me up at 8:40.  Punctuality is not important here.  Have to like that.  Kathleen and I will learn to go with the flow more.

35 minutes later we pulled into St Andrew’s in Secunderabad.   Not St. Mary’s or Loyola, but St Andrews.  It was clearly labeled St Andrews so I am not sure my driver can read.    I got out of the van to check it out.  Turns out it is an Orthodox church and it was filled to capacity with Indians who were singing in a full throated fashion.   Beautiful songs.  Not exactly chants, but rich in tone.  As much as I appreciated it, I could not understand a word of it so I decided to keep trying to get to St Mary’s.  My driver, Thierpathi,  who was studying the Church and its surroundings which were alive with activity,  called his boss.  No help there.  He then asked someone at St Andrews who pointed vaguely in some direction and we took off.

5 minutes later Tierpathi pointed and said “St Toms over there.”  I said “Let’s go St Mary’s. “ Two minutes later we passed  another Catholic parish, St John’s.   Who knew there would be so many Catholic parishes in India.  I decided that we may never find St Mary’s and said, “Let’s go there. “ But he was already past it.  I thought that he would turn around but after a few minutes I asked him to go back again.   A lot gets lost in translation over her.  We each speak English, but cannot understand each other.   He turned the car around only to miss the turn again to St John’s.  Turned out that it was providential as suddenly within one block, we came upon St Mary’s and we turned into the parking lot.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I saw a Pieta that has to be about 30-40 feet in height.  The statue must be  2 or 3 stories tall.  The figures are not proportional.  Mary is huge.  Mary is 1 ½ or 2 times the size of Jesus.  So much for the Renaissance.  However, in  some way it makes sense since the sculptor was seeking to honor Mary.

There is also a plaque that indicates that the statue is dedicated to all the religious and lay people that planted the seeds of the Catholic community in India beginning in the 1500’s.   I thought of St Francis Xavier and the many believers who followed after him.   Xavier, a college roommate of St Ignatius, came to India around 1540.

The Church is Gothic in style which is a bit surprising to see in India.  Explained perhaps by another placard that said that this Church was built by Irish soldiers serving in the British Army in the 1800’s.  I thought of my ancestors presumably forced to serve in the British Army or perhaps it was a better choice than starving.

I arrived at 9:25 for a 9:30 English liturgy.  However, the prior liturgy was just finishing up with a powerful recessional hymn in the Telungan language.  The Indians are very pious.  As they left the Basilica, many waited in line for one of the deacons to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads.  The church looks pre Vatican II for all the statues it has.  The Indians crowd around the statues, pictures of saints or Mary and touch them sometimes with both hands.


The liturgy was excellent.  The English  music was not.  It was a bit like polka music.  Very upbeat, but not particularly  contemplative.  The people did participate in the singing.

I was the only Caucasian in the assembly and clearly one of the tallest people there.  The altar just about came up to the priest’s shoulders.

His homily was original.  As the banner that hung over the assembly indicated, today’s gospel included  a quote of Jesus:  “ You cannot serve both God and money.”  He talked about the 3 ways people make money:  working hard, winning the lottery, or through an inheritance.  He said that you can have money and keep your soul in God which I thought was an interesting approach within the context of the first reading from Amos.   The Old Testament reading was from Amos the prophet who torched the wealthy for exploiting the poor.  He did not get into that reading at all.

Pope Francis certainly did today.  See the Sunday Chicago Tribune.  He attacked globalization and an economy that puts money before people.  Of course, I am an ambassador of globalization as I teach people in India to fish by learning how to do tax returns.

There is clearly an emergence of a middle class here from all the American based companies that are doing business here and hiring Indians.  Deloitte has hired 20,000 and we are one of many.

The priest also had a second theme about how Jesus used or experienced bad things such as his interactions with the Pharisees or his crucifixion to good.  But then he went into a discussion of how the soul is good and the body is bad and we can use this bad body to generate merits for our souls.  Sounds more Buddhist or Hindu than Catholic.    God declared God’s creation good and through this creation we can know God.  See also Wisdom 11:22-12:2

As we left St Mary’s, I had Thierpathi check with the priest to get directions to Loyola.  45 minutes later I asked Thierpathi if we were getting close.  He said 4 or 5 more miles, but 5 minutes later he asked  a few people if they knew where it is.  The first two had never heard of it, but the third pointed his finger up and said something to the effect that we should just stay on the road.  We were clearly lost.  The twin cities are not that large.  10 minutes later I suggested we go to the hotel, but then providentially  Loyola appeared on the right.


The security  guards were not too sure what to do with us at the front gate, but finally decided to admit us and pointed us toward  the priests’ residency.  The priests have little cells that line a walkway and we met a retired native Jesuit who warmly greeted us and told me when I could find a Mass on the grounds in the future.  He said that they are a quasi-parish and was surprised that I would want to come so far to join them.

We then headed back to the hotel and were home within 45 minutes.  It was a great drive around the city.  Big shopping day.  Everyone was out getting fresh fruit and doing other shopping.  A great hubbub of activity.  What a wonderful morning.