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Both my grandmothers were named Mary. Growing up in Chennai, India, my family and I would travel to our grandmothers’ homes in the state of Kerala to spend a few weeks of our annual school vacations there. Those lazy summer holidays were tremendous fun. My two younger brothers and I spent most days playing with our cousins, whose own families had also arrived there for the summer. We had no school to go to, no homework to finish, no chores to do, and the entire day at our disposal to play cricket, soccer, hide-and-go seek, running-and-catching, and numerous other games we seemed to be able to dream up almost daily. But every day would end the same way – with the entire family, spanning three generations comprised of us kids, our parents, uncles, aunts, and grandma, gathering in the prayer room before bedtime to pray the Rosary. Devotion to Mother Mary ran strong in our families, and as those vacations ended and each of our families went back to our own homes and to our separate lives, these observances of Mother Mary and reminders to pray to her continued. August 15 was not only the Indian Independence Day, but also the feast of the Assumption; September 8 was not only grandma’s birthday, but also Mother Mary’s; December 8 was the feast of the Immaculate Conception; January 1 was New Year’s Day and the feast of Mary, Mother of God; May was a Marian month – don’t forget to pray the Rosary every day!
These are a few of my earliest childhood memories and the corresponding faith traditions imparted to me by my parents, as they influenced and shaped me as an individual and as a Catholic Christian growing up in India. My wife, Lekha has her own stories from her childhood in India. Every immigrant into this country, from India and elsewhere, carries with him or her, stories like our own. Today, as my wife and I bring up our two young children, both of them born in these United States, we frequently wonder what traditions and memories we will in turn impart to our kids. How much of their memories will be shaped by this new country that they grow up in? What parts of our own cultural identities as Indian-American Catholic Christians will we leave behind with them?
It was in the midst of these important musings that Cecilia Cervantes from the worship council at Pax Christi approached us this summer with a novel invitation: "Would the Indian community like to organize something at Pax Christi to celebrate Christian traditions of India?" Over the twenty years I have lived in the States, I have been part of several parishes, but this was the very first time I had received an invitation to share something about my Indian-ness with the rest of the parish community. Under Cecilia’s guidance, a group of our Indian, Asian, and American friends from Pax Christi scrambled together and started brainstorming ideas for the celebration. Over the next few weeks, I watched in amazement as this small group came together, and in September this year, on a shoestring budget and with support from numerous members of the Pax Christi family and staff, hosted the Indian community’s first-ever celebration at Pax Christi, of the feast of our Lady of Good Health and the Nativity of Mother Mary. This feast is celebrated in several Catholic churches across India with much fanfare, including processions through city streets, crowning of the statue of Mother Mary, and special prayers and novenas to the Holy Mother, who is believed to have appeared with the child Jesus in her arms during the 16th and 17th centuries around Vailankanni, a small coastal town in the south of India. Borrowing from these traditions and memories carried over from India, we celebrated this feast at Pax Christi with a brief prayer service dedicated to Mary, followed by a delicious Indian meal prepared in the Pax Christi kitchen. This event was attended by more than 150 members of the Pax Christi community, and was a night filled with tremendous fun, friendship, and communion.
Looking back at the event, I am grateful for the incredible support we received from our Pax Christi friends and their families, both Indian and not-so-Indian: for the countless hours that went into the planning, organization, communication, grocery-shopping, food preparation, church decoration, worship, meal serving, and clean-up after the celebration. I am also grateful for the opportunity to have shared a little bit of our Indian-ness with the Pax Christi parish, and especially with my two young children, who may in turn one day share these memories with future generations. But, most of all, I am grateful to have witnessed how people from different corners of India, and indeed the world, came together at Pax Christi on a summer night to celebrate some of the richness and diversity that forms the fabric of the Catholic church. I can speak for the Indian community at Pax Christi: we all felt very welcomed.
Written by parishioner Joby Pauly.