Memories at a wedding

In 1995, I was appointed to India. I was to teach in a seminary and help look after a hostel for street kids founded by Mill Hill some twenty years before. The hostel, however, soon took up most of my time, but I loved the work. We had 94 boys from about the age of four to twenty and we either schooled them or gave them training as tailors or carpenters. I was not able to stay there long and after six months I was recalled to England, but during my following appointment as a University chaplain I carried on my connection with the hostel by raising money each Christmas to help pay for the school fees of the boys and the vocational courses some took after leaving the hostel. The hostel is now closed, but the emotional bonds formed between those – both boys and priests – who lived or worked there still remain. This year I was invited to the wedding of one of the boys, Anji, who had been in the hostel during my time. He urged me to come, saying: “I want to stand up and tell everyone that you are my father!” After such an invitation how could I refuse?

It is sixteen years, since I left the hostel and seven years since my last visit, but I was astonished at the degree of warmth and affection there is still among the twenty or so boys whom I met during my visit. They are like a band of brothers, who look out for each other and support each other in times of trouble and difficulty – which is remarkable, because they are a mixture of Hindus, Muslims and Christians, divisions which usually drive people apart. However, this, I believe, is part of the hostel legacy; we would not let the boys become Catholics while they were in the hostel, lest they did so for reasons other than faith. Thus, they learnt to respect those who followed religions different from their own – and this is now part of the affection that binds them together. But I discovered that the hostel influence goes even deeper than this. I spent some time at the house of Anji and he introduced me to several people who were either staying with him or were frequent visitors. One was a happy, young man, who is a little simple and I asked Anji if he was a relative. He told me that he had found him living rough on the railway station several years before and had managed to get him into a hostel run by the Salesians, but because he could not manage the schooling, he had left and Anji had taken him into his home. He now lives with an old woman who needs someone to help her – a place Anji had found for him – but is a frequent visitor to Anji’s home. There were also two other young men, whom Anji had taken in because they needed help and after having been introduced to them, I teased Anji a little, saying, “You house is a miniature hostel!” His answer remains with me: “Father, we received help and care from the Mill Hill Fathers, but it must not stop with us – it must go on through us, to others, who need help.” When I related this to one of the priests at the seminary here in Kuching, he said, “That is the Gospel!” How true that is, but it is the Gospel living in a group of boys, who are Hindu, Muslim and Christian!

When we think of the Kingdom of God, we often think of it in religious terms – of beliefs held in common, of belonging to a Church or of praying together. All this is true, but we can forget that there is a more fundamental level of belonging to the Kingdom, where we live and move in the Spirit of God’s love – even if we do not know his name! I am reminded of the New Testament story of Cornelius, Acts 10:1ff, who received the Holy Spirit before becoming a Christian. My group of ex-hostel boys brought that back to mind – they made me remember that the Gospel is preached first through kindness and care and only later through doctrine and discipline.

I remember a visit I made to India, five years after I had left. A boy, who must have been eight years old when I was there, came up to me and said, “Father, I would like to thank you, because when I was sick, you came and sat next to me and gave me a sweetie”. I have no memory of that, but he had treasured that memory for five years and his words have remained with me as a reminder of how to preach the Gospel. We are not taught to be kind – we learn it by people being kind to us. Likewise, we are not taught to believe in God, it comes when people believe in us and we then begin to believe in people. When we look for God, we often look up to the heavens – but we should, instead, look around us. In the small acts of kindness and care that we can see around us – if we but look – we can see God appearing. God is Trinity, which is another way of saying that God is family and wherever people live as family, in care for one another, God is present. What I saw in the care and affection among my ex-hostel boys was the movement of God coming to live among us – I was the priest, but they were the ones preaching the Gospel.

Diary


I enjoyed my 40th Jubilee. In the end, it spanned the whole weekend. On the Saturday night, there was a very pleasant Chinese dinner arranged by the Parish Council of St. Peter’s, where I say Mass on Sundays. Then, the next day, I celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving in St Peter’s and many friends attended and this was followed by a gathering, with much laughter, food and entertainment. On the Monday evening, there was another celebration in the College, where I live and teach, and many priests came to join me on that occasion. This was also followed by wonderful food and entertainment – including a slide show of a much slimmer Father Terry, garnered from photographs in the archives of the College. I am very grateful to all who helped make my Jubilee a time of thanksgiving, memories, and encouragement in my ministry. I thank all of you who sent me cards, greetings and gifts. May God bless you all.

I missed not having my brother and his wife at my celebration. He has just begun his course of chemotherapy and is not having an easy time of it. However, he is grateful that he is able to have treatment and he asked me to put into this blog his request for prayer for all those who have cancer like him, but do not have access to treatment, because of a shortage of money. This I now do and add my prayers to his.

I heard on Saturday that one of the young men, whom I visit in prison in Bali, Andrew Wong, has had his final appeal against the death sentence rejected. He is only 27 and has been in jail for six years. Please pray for him and also for his family. His last chance now is that the President of Indonesia will grant him a pardon… but I am told that is not very likely.

 

God bless,

Terry

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