Meghraj: A new church for a new people
Holy Family Church in Meghraj, nestled by the green-carpeted Aravalli Range, the oldest fold mountain of India, is in an idyllic location where the population is mostly tribal. Since kinship is a vital aspect of tribal life, the name Holy Family will naturally evoke an emotional bond.
By Joe Palathunkal
Three hour drive from Ahmedabad on 21 September 2018 reached us Meghraj in the Aravalli district of Gujarat covering a distance of 130 kilometres to take part in the blessing of a new church in the archdiocese of Gandhinagar.
Holy Family Church in Meghraj, nestled by the green-carpeted Aravalli Range, the oldest fold mountain of India, is in an idyllic location where the population is mostly tribal. Since kinship is a vital aspect of tribal life, the name Holy Family will naturally evoke an emotional bond to this simple but beautiful edifice architecturally designed by Father Sibi and executed by Father Arokiaswamy, the parish priest.
The liturgy of the blessing started at 10: 30 when the sun sent his 40 degree Celsius beams down to brighten the occasion while girls and boys danced their way in the typical tribal fashion to the newly built church in the accompaniment of Gujarati devotional songs and melodies along with a big line of priests and five bishops (Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Rajkot, Udaipur).
Since Mother Mary is central to Holy Family, the bishops first blessed a grotto where a graceful looking mother gave a grace-filled gaze at everyone gathered around and after the blessing of the grotto the procession proceeded to the church for its consecration.
Inaugurated by Archbishop (Emeritus) Stanislaus Fernandez SJ and blessed by Archbishop Thomas Macwan of Gandhinagar, three crosses atop the church welcome you to the new house of prayer and situated on an elevated place, this church will definitely catch your attention. The long liturgy concluded at 1 in the afternoon and throughout it maintained a tribal aura coupled with the Catholic one.
Since the church is in a mission territory, it holds greater significance because it brings a kind of newness to the whole area. “When the Father came here first, there was nothing,” Somabhai, a retired railway official and one of the parishioners, started recounting the genesis of the new church.
“Father started a hostel for our children who go to the nearby government schools. This helped a lot and our children’s education improved, they had a place to stay and someone to help them in their studies,” Somabhai’s countenance lit up as he narrated the story. “All the children after their studies began to apply for jobs in government, and I tell you today we have several of them in government jobs!”
With Saint Xavier’s School up to 12th standard, this backward area has started moving forward with a new vigour for a new life and now with this new church the whole area will get a new life qualitatively and quantitatively.
Young Sonal with a happy mien says proudly: “I am B. Sc. Maths with B. Ed and teaches here at Saint Xavier’s,” and not to be left behind immediately her younger sister quipped, “I am B. Sc agriculture and works in a government department.” Listening to them I felt Somabhai was more than correct – indeed the church has brought a new life to the whole area.
During the Holy Mass when I heard one of the readings speaking about God making the 12 tribes of Israel into one family, I felt how appropriately the church is christened: Holy Family! In a tribal region like Meghraj it has greater significance, it not only makes the more than 100 odd Catholics into one family but it also makes the whole people of the area into one family because of the message it gives out to all through these small number of Catholics – love your neighbour as yourself and forgive your enemies!
That is what the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the top of the church tells you, a Heart filled with love and compassion.
That Heart tells everyone that whoever accepts my vision will become a new person and that is what makes the tiny Catholic community a new people. Though tiny, it will be the yeast that can enliven the whole dough as Jesus said – the impact will be much more than its small size.
That is what the Holy Family Church in Meghraj is going to do – creating a new India with a new people. This church reminds me of the title of a book by Christian historian Dr. Babu K. Verghese: “Let there be India ! Impact of the Bible on Nation Building”, and there is no doubt Meghraj church is a partner-stone in the building of this nation, to make this nation new with a new people like Somabhai, Sonal and others of this living faith.
(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)
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