Pastoral ministry among Indian students

10:01 AM | By | Category: Parish and pastoral care, Divine Word Missionaries
There are quite a lot of foreign students in St. Petersburg. Some of them happen to be Catholic, others belong to all kinds of other Christian denominations, or other religions. For a long time no one really was concerned about the Catholics; even if some Catholic  parishes offered their services to them, there was no proper encouragement, so merely a few found their way to the Catholic Mass on Sunday. About 9 months ago, the situation seemed to have changed in that respect. An SVD priest from Poland, Fr. Tadeusz Panek, who had been invited to work in the Ural Region (which includes Russia), accepted the offer to work with the Indian students. He has a good command of English, so he did not mind taking care of the students, a number of whom live in students hostels on the territory of our parish. He met their representatives in our church on one Sunday and then his cooperation started. These are some of his impressions: “My first mission assignment was St. Kitts, an island in the West Indies.  Among the first confreres I met was Fr. Tony Rebello, an Indian, with whom I made friends almost immediately. Since that time I had met many Indian people and somehow I did not have many problems trying to communicate with them. Therefore, I was glad to meet Indian students here in Russia hoping that our relations would be good and my pastoral involvement- successful. Most of the times I had an English Mass with them it was taking place in their students’ hostel; the conditions may not have been too good, but at least many of them were attending the mass because they had it so close not having to move far away from home. They all study medicine in Russia, the main reason being that it is much cheaper here than in their own country, not to mention England or the USA. They are very nice and sympathetic, not all of them, however, are really dedicated, as far as their Mass attendance is concerned. I tried to excuse them by the fact that most young people all over the world are similar in this respect. During the Mass they usually took the readings and the psalm, after Communion they sang a hymn in their own language, since they all come from Kerala, the most Catholic province in India. Other hymns were sung in English which I always selected and printed out for them. After the Mass a meal used to be served, typically spicy… We had one recollection day together, in the SVD-owned house in the village of Avkalevo, before Easter. I tried to address their needs, their lack of knowledge of the Catholic teaching, and of the split of Christianity due to reformation (since many of them are daily exposed to the interference with their life of faith by other non-Catholic students). It was a kind of preparation for the upcoming Easter as well, there was confession, stations of the Cross and a Lenten meditation. Fr. Freddie Thomas, a friend of mine working in India, helped me with the materials he sent to me via internet. And even the fact that their Mass attendance decreased again after the recollection day, it does not discourage me and I hope to meet them again after summer holiday  and continue assisting them on their way with and towards Christ in this little part of the Lord’s vineyard…  “  (Tadeusz Panek svd)

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