Fifty is a prime age to set for searching for one’s-self. I realized when I am fifty plus two. I wanted a different holiday experience than the usual when I used visit friends and relatives. There are courageous faithful who witnessed the love of Jesus through their simple and ordinary lives. To set a journey through their places would be inspirational. When I expressed my idea, two of my friends were very happy to accompany me to embark on a journey to the tombs of some of the saints in Kerala. To be frank, I had already visited some of these places just for the sake of curiosity or to accompany some others. This time I wanted to make it differently.
The Old Testament God is God who wanders with the Israelites. The feast of Tents reminds them this fact. Their Forefather Abraham was a wanderer. God instructs the Israelites to be considerate towards the refugees as they themselves were once refugees. All these events emphasis the idea, that we have no permanent place here on earth.
Pilgrimage is to be seen in this background. It is not merely to achieve some benefits from the saints who work wonders. Saints, their tombs and relics are symbols of mortality of human beings. They tell us a story of dispossession, a story of their search for eternity, a story how God used them as His instrument of salvation. Taking all kinds of inhuman treatments with joy and serenity they sought only the glory of God. With these thoughts I set out for a journey through their places of life and death.
“The Last Supper”: a Preparation of a Journey
On the first day our plan was to visit the newly declared saint Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart (1877-1952) and Blessed Mariam Thresia (1876-1926). We started with a Holy Qurbana early in the morning. The atmosphere early morning is always a great fascination. The night gets ready to say goodbye to the day: cool and deep silence! The newly introduced Anaphora of Theodore in the Syro Malabar Church makes one very sensitive towards the Trinitarian mysteries. The holiness of the Trinitarian God, His mercy, kindness and love towards the creation are explained in such way, as if one is experiencing them here and now! The lowliness and the unworthiness of the celebrant are embraced by the ocean of mercy and kindness of the loving God. His holy blood washes away the sinfulness. His right hand of providence protects the celebrants throughout the day. I prayed to get some inspiration from his loving saints towards dispossession, as I consider the desire to possess name, fame and power is the cause of all evils for the people of consecrated lives.
After the Holy Qurbana we started our journey. We prayed the glorious mysteries of the Rosary. The meditation on the resurrection, ascension and the Pentecost leads me always a little bit emotionally to the last days of Jesus with his mother and Apostles, a very emotional time in his life on earth as a man. How much Jesus loved his mother!? The mysteries of Assumption and Coronation gives only some glimpse of it!
My friends, Fr Sebastian Pothenparampil and Fr Thomas Plappallil were also very enthusiastic to make this pilgrimage. Fr Thomas Plappallil who is a Pastor in a parish in Switzerland had already made many great pilgrimages to Lourdes, Medjugorje, Fatima, Aar’s and many other pilgrim centers in Europe. The pilgrimage in the Mother land, in our own neighborhood is a different experience, he said. One among us lived a life very pleasing to the Lord, this thought makes one very courageous and it inspires us to live our consecrated lives more meaningfully.
On the way to Ollur from Bharananganam we had a coffee break. Our discussions began to fall in to our natural habits of speaking the defects and weaknesses of others. All of us were suddenly aware of these bad habits. If God were considering our defects and weaknesses, how could we still live in this world at all!? “Oh loving God, help us from these very bad habits!” I prayed silently. We then began to pray the ‘Rosary of Divine Mercy’ as reparation for this bad habit. I find the ‘Rosary of Mercy’ as the best prayer to love and care for the other than judging and condemning the other. This prayer helped us to focus more on our own sinfulness and the need of God’s mercy and prepared us to enter the holy place.
St Euphrasia: a woman clung to Jesus
By noon we reached Ollur, the place of St Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart. Hundreds of pilgrims were coming and going. The convent chapel where the tomb of St Euphrasia is located was calm and serine. Most Holy Communion was exposed on the Alter for Adoration. As we focused on the tomb, at first we did not notice the Most Holy Communion! There were no signs pointing towards it. The same was with many people who entered in the Chapel. I was sorry for this. As we started to make some silent prayer, some other group began to pray the Rosary aloud. Then we too joined them, as silent prayer was impossible.
Some parts of the old convent, including St Euphrasia’s room, were converted to museum. Going through the museum one gets a flash glimpse of her life. Her family background, her miraculous vision of the Holy Family and the cure, her miraculous escape from drowning and her tireless prayer intercessions for the faithful were very inspiring.
When she was nine years old she had the vision of the Holy Mother and she dedicated her life to Jesus. Entering in to the consecrated life is only the continuation of this dedication. Her love towards Jesus was single minded and undivided. She withstood courageously any and every temptations against it. Every event, good or bad, in her life, she transcended them to grace of God.
To become an unknown saint was the single minded purpose of her life. In this process she became one with Jesus and she was always joyful in her life as a result of this oneness with Jesus. “My soul clings to thee” (Ps 63:8), this saying is true to the life of St Euphrasia. The faithful near and far in Ollur experienced this oneness of Sr Euphrasia and Loving Jesus and they approached her with various requirements of intercessions and she humbly took everything to her loving Bride and it was pleasing to Him.
Blessed Mariam Thresia: a bold woman of God
We left Ollur with a heart filled with serenity. Our next destination was Kuzhikkattussery, the place of work and death of Blessed Mariam Thresia. From Kodakara one has to take the direction to Aaloor and then from Aaloor on the way to Maala one reaches Kuzhikkattussery. As we reached Kuzhikkattussery we saw the statue of Mariam Thresia in a compound and we thought it is the pilgrim place. As we entered inside it was a hospital. We had to still travel a few meters taking the deviation to the right. They could have given a signboard showing the direction.
As we reached the pilgrim place, we directly went in to the church where the tomb of Blessed Mariam Thresia is located. There was some faithful praying at the tomb, but not many. We could make a good silent prayer. On the other side of the tomb of Mariam Thresia, there is the tomb of Fr Vithayathil, the spiritual director of Mariam Thresia. People were praying at both the tombs.
After the prayers at the tomb we were led by Mr Mathews, whose disabled legs had been miraculously cured by the intercession of Blessed Mariam Thresia, to the Museum. The whole life of Mariam Thresia has been beautifully and carefully depicted through mural paintings. The life history of Mariam Thresia is really inspiring and at the same time make us wonder how God chooses his instruments of salvation.
Mariam Thresia comes from a very humble background. Her education was only second standard. Her father and brother were alcoholics. But her pious mother took all the pains to bring up her child in holiness. She instructed her daughter to keep away from even a slightest sin. From the childhood onwards Mariam Thresia had been fascinated by the Passion of Jesus. Her desire to join the convent was toppled down as she could not find the required patrimony. For some time she even thought of living an ascetic life in jungle. Meanwhile she had been gifted with visions of the passion of Jesus. She used to nurse people at the time of their death and who were sick and this was a great consolation for the villagers.
As the life with her father and brother became unbearable she moved to the Carmelite convent in Ollur. After a few months stay in Ollur she went back to Puthenchira where with the help of the Vicar and spiritual Director of Mariam Thresia Fr Vithayathil and the parishioners helped her to build a house. This became the founding house of the Holy Family Congregation, later when Mariam Thresia became a nun and foundress of the congregation.
Her life with great challenges, trials and tribulations was one of incessant witness to the Gospel values of Jesus. Nothing could keep her away from witnessing the love of Jesus.
A Journey to the Meaningfulness of Life
These people never lived for themselves. Their only concern was to bear witness to love of Jesus through the selfless service to their brethren.
It gave us all a great motivation. Our faith is strengthened. We found that we live a meaningful life only when we live for Jesus. With these feelings we concluded our pilgrimage on this day and looking forward to make one to Mannanam where a man consecrated his whole life for the Church: St Chavara Kuriokose, Ramapuram where we find a saintly person who denied himself to give life to the marginalized of the society: Blessed Kunjachan and Bharananganam where a woman loved to suffer any extent to express her love to her Bride Jesus: St Alphonsa.