The third continental seminar of South Asia ACSSA – the first of the continental seminars of this season – commenced on 22 June 2018 at the Hyderabad Provincial House with 16 participants comprising of 7 Salesians and 9 Salesian Sisters, representing four Salesian and the seven FMA Provinces respectively. The formal inaugural session at 9.30 a.m. set the tone to the seminar proceedings. Fr Thathireddy Vijay Bhaskar, Provincial of Hyderabad, presided over the session and inaugurated the seminar by lighting the kuthuvilak, a ceremonial Indian oil lamp representing Christ the light of the world. In his presidential address Fr Thathireddy highlighted the importance of a faithful recording of history. Fr Thomas Anchukandam, Director of Istituto Storico Salesiano and member of Presidenza ACSSA gave the keynote address, stressing the exigency of continuity in the documented history of religious institutes, which calls for conviction, commitment and competence on the part of the one called to this mission. The presence of Fr Anchukandam proved an enrichment to the seminar with his scientific expertise and as a link to the centres of Salesian historical studies – ISS and ACSSA – in Rome.
The messages from the Rector Major Rev Fr Ángel Fernández Artime, from the Mother General Rev Sr Yvonne Reungoat, from the Regional Councillor for South Asia Rev Fr Maria Arokiam Kanaga and from the President of ACSSA Rev Fr Francesco Motto were listened to fondly and attentively by the participants. These messages evoked a feeling of proximity of the Superiors at the seminar. Their words of appreciation at coming together to study the topic of “Incisive and Innovative Salesian Personalities of India” and of encouragement to continue as promoters of Salesian history in the region challenged the participants to “know the profile of the Salesian for the youth of yesterday” in order to “discover the profile of the Salesian for the youth of today”. The messages have motivated them to dedicate themselves even more enthusiastically to transmit the incisive and innovative contributions of our predecessors to the coming generations in order to ensure the future of the Salesian congregation as willed by Don Bosco in the religiously, culturally and linguistically diverse India.
With the vote of thanks by Sr Philomena D’Souza, the President of South Asia ACSSA, the inaugural function came to a close.
After a short break the participants were ready to take on the rest of the day’s programme, which was really intense with the presentation of three papers. The first was on Mother Catherine Mania FMA, a Charismatic Missionary by Sr Molly Kaniampady FMA of Guwahati Province. The session was chaired by Sr Suganthi FMA. Sr Molly portrayed Mother Catherine as an epitome of Salesian missionary life, who devoted her long life to the care of the poor.
The second paper was on Sr Terezija Medvešek FMA, an Embodiment of Love and Service. It was presented by Sr Lilly Perumpettikunnel FMA of Kolkata Province, Sr Cecilia Thomas being the moderator of the session. St Terezija, the only FMA missionary to India from the then Yugoslavia (present Slovenia) embodied in a significant manner the Salesian spirit and lived her Salesian vocation understood as mission.
The last paper of the day on Fr José Luis Carreño SDB was presented by Fr Thomas Anchukandam SDB and the session was chaired by Fr Vivian D’Souza. The significance for Salesian India of Fr Carreño, loved equally by the confreres and the people, was quite revelatory. The setting up of formation houses at various levels, introducing school, college and technical education, drive for garnering indigenous vocations, the capacity to insert himself into the multicultural, plurilingual and pluri-religious context of India were all marks of an incisive and innovative ministry.
The Holy Eucharist followed at 7.00 p.m., presided over by the Provincial Fr Thathireddy Vijaya Bhaskar. In the homily he highlighted the importance and the beauty of sharing. Dinner followed and the day concluded with night prayers and the good night by Fr Thomas Santiagu, the Vice-Provincial of Hyderabad.
The second day’s programme began with the Holy Eucharist at 7.00 a.m. presided over by Fr Thomas Anchukandam. In his homily he emphasized the importance of being grateful, besides keeping alive the memory of our past just like the Israelites who kept the memory of their past experiences ever fresh in their hearts and minds. After the Eucharist the entire group posed for a group photo to serve as record for history.
The first session of the day began with a presentation on Fr John Lens SDB, the only foreign missionary who worked in the province of Hyderabad. Fr John Rosario Lourdusamy SDB moderated the session and Fr Pandicherry Joseph of Hyderabad Province highlighted the unique aspects of the life of Fr Lens based on an unpublished autobiography of his, pointing out how the missionary priest had imbibed and lived the Salesian charism.
The second paper was on Sr Josephine Gaod FMA by Sr Teresa Phawa FMA of Shillong Province. Sr Alphonsa Yettukuri FMA chaired the session. Sr Teresa focused on the significant aspects of the life of the Italian missionary in the North East of India tracing out her missionary vocation and zeal, with particular attention to her human and Salesian qualities, which made her a role model as she lived out to the full her motto “to do the will of God and spread the Kingdom”.
After lunch the participants left for a visit to the famous Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad. The museum is a repository of the works of art of European, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern origins, apart from chronicles of rich Indian heritage dating from the Mauryan to the Mughal dynasty and of the Nizams. It also has a large collection of rare manuscripts and a well-equipped library. The visit was for the seminar participants a real cultural fiesta.
The day ended with a visit to and dinner at the Salesian community of Don Bosco Mothinagar, Hyderabad.
The third and final day which coincided with the solemnity of St John the Baptist began with the Holy Eucharist presided over by Fr Vivian D’Souza SDB. In his homily Fr Vivian observed that the meeting of John the Baptist with Jesus was a happy one, which motivated him to prepare the way of the Lord. He exhorted everyone similarly to prepare the way of the Lord through our commitment to the study of history.
The presentation of the last two papers awaited the day. Sr Sangitha Sahayarani FMA of Bangalore Province presented the figure of Sr Nancy Pereira FMA. The session was chaired by Fr Chinnappa Godugunuru. From the presentation of Sr Sangitha, Sr Nancy, the founder of “Fides” emerged as a person of extraordinary love for the poor charged with tremendous commitment, who left no stone unturned to devise ways and means to come to their aid with concrete projects.
The second paper of the day and the last of the seminar was on Fr Philip Thayil SDB, presented by Fr Mathew Kapplikunnel SDB of Bangalore Province. Fr Mathew Emprayil SDB acted as the moderator. Fr Mathew Kapplikunnel exposed how a simple confrere with no special talents or qualifications such as Fr Philip could, impelled by zeal for the education of boys, come out with innovative and incisive projects in the fields of publications, media and culture with a far reaching impact on boys and on the society.
After the presentation of every paper the floor was open for discussion, during which many valid points were brought up commending the papers and indicating aspects which needed further attention.
The afternoon session was more of an administrative nature. Beginning with an evaluation of the seminar, which resulted very positive, the assembly proceeded to propose plans for follow up and future action. It was agreed upon to publish the papers presented, with the exclusion of the one which will be forwarded for presentation at the international congress 2021, in the journal “Bosco Udayam” or “Mission Today” after proper revision integrating the observations made in the hall. The next seminar of South Asia ACSSA is fixed for July 2020 to keep to the two year cycle, even although it would be close to the international congress of 2021. The term of office of the President and Secretary was fixed as four years.
The vote of thanks by Fr Mathew Kapplikunnel, Secretary of the Association, brought the seminar to its conclusion. He thanked the members of the host community of the Hyderabad Provincial House for the Salesian hospitality and whole-hearted support, the speakers who took pains to prepare the papers and all the participants for generously shouldering the various responsibilities during the seminar. He ended with a fervent exhortation to everyone to continue tenaciously in the association while looking out for prospective new members.