31 July 2013. With the Manresa House novices undergoing various ‘experiments’ frequently, we tend to re-live our own. This year, one experiment the novices did not go through (for whatever reason) is Pilgrimage. But (may be because of that?) I did: down memory lane.
It was my second year of novitiate in India. For some preceding years, a few batches did not do a pilgrimage, since that turned out to be a ‘treat’ for the novices: people knew when the Brothers would on pilgrimage, and be ready with sumptuous meals and goodies. It seems the novice-master felt that people’s generosity undid the purpose of the pilgrimage.
So, we suggested that we restart the pilgrimage; we also decided not to visit Catholic houses on our way – lest it should defeat the Experiment-purpose. Upon completion of our six /four-week-long Mission Experiment, two of us started our 120 km-long walk to the famous Shivajinagar Church (Cathedral of Mother Mary, Bangalore).
Clad in saffron-lungie (a long, plain cloth worn round the waist by Hindu sanyasis and a Kurta, and with nothing but a sling bag on our shoulders (that is after a six-week-long mission experiment-stay in a remote area!), we started our faith-journey. Whenever we were hungry, we knocked on some non-Christian door.
What answer do you expect? That is, if some young (apparently refined-and-good looking!) men in their early-twenties, knock at your door? Worse, still, if it happens to be a lone man/woman, in a stand-alone house?
And believe it or not, it was enough to say ‘pilgrim’, and we were received warmly. In fact, one afternoon, we were determined to complete a longer journey. There was third world-war going on in our hungry stomachs; we could feel our stomachs touching the back-bones! It was around 2.30pm. We found a poor house.
‘Who is it?’ a middle-aged lady emerged. It was clear, the Hindu woman was resting.
‘Madam, we are pilgrims, on our way to Bangalore. We are hungry. Could you give us something to eat?’
Surprise…surprise…She did not even ask us ‘Pilgrimage? Where in Bangalore?’ Had she asked, we would be lost. After all, Bangalore is not famous for non-Christian pilgrimage centres.
She opened the door; made us sit on the floor. Started cooking – fresh! In a few minutes, she was out – to a shop, I guess, to buy some condiments and vegetables?
In no time a simple, fresh, delicious meal was ready: hot congee (rice-gruel) with some cooked vegetables. As we ate, our conversation continued; it became personal and spiritual. One of us, she said, resembled her deceased son. She narrated her life-story. A spiritual bond had developed between total strangers in a few minutes.
We saw faith in action; we experienced it. We experienced what faith and spiritual life can do. It did not matter to her what religion we belonged to (she never asked for it); it did not matter that she was taking rest or was alone at home; it did not matter that those at her door-steps were four young men. It was enough that we were pilgrims. For her, we were seekers after Truth. And she welcomed us warmly. We had spiritual conversation. We bade goodbye to each other. We had a feast of faith! It replenished our energy, refreshed our spirit, and rekindled our faith in humanity-at-large. Our hearts were full of gratitude to God.
Till we reached the Shrine, and after, we kept on ruminating on that experience. And for many more years to come.
Today, living in a novitiate house, and celebrating the feast of St Ignatius Loyola, the Pilgrim (31 July), I recall this meaningful experience of pilgrimage. It is ever-green, relevant, and reassuring. It renews and reinforces our faith in God and people’s goodness.
Happy Feast to you all!
by Richie Rego