Being a Witness to Christ in India
Letter from Ruth Kenneth
Dear Sister in Christ,
My country India is known for its genuine hospitality and warmth. As a country, we have big hearts, strong bodies, and open souls. As an Indian, I have learned just this: to be courteous and generous to all. India is a multicultural and multi-religious country. Standing as a witness to Christ is indeed my vocation here.
We are cradle Catholics in India because of these greats: St. Thomas, the Apostle (who came to South India), St. Francis Xavier who transformed the Western coast of India, Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Jesuits, and the Salesians. As I see fellow Catholics on social media, I wonder how these greats made it in India. Such a vast difference in culture, language, history, and climate conditions.
My hometown, Vasai (formerly known as Bassein), has a church within every ten to fifteen minutes of travel. We have our own saint too - St. Gonsalo Garcia, a Franciscan lay brother, from Vasai, who was martyred in Nagasaki along with Paul Miki and companions. We also have many vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Plus, being close to the city Mumbai, Vasai is a melting pot for people all over the country and Christians to be specific.
My parents are devout Catholics, too. We prayed as a family daily with my parents taking turns to lead the Rosary. My mother told us stories from the Bible and taught at Sunday School. I studied in a Catholic school, had mostly Catholic friends and went to Catholic colleges. Yes, the faith is well established. I had no problem in discussing the teachings of the Church, talking about homilies or telling Bible stories to my little friends. We had Holy Masses in all the languages around us. But having a mixed background, where my dad came from the south of India and mom from Western India, with different regional languages: Konkani and Marathi, we spoke English at home. We had Holy Masses celebrated just outside our apartment building. Christmas meant that streets were lit, huge Nativity scenes were created outside churches and houses. It was Christmas everywhere. Therefore, having grown up in a Christian town, celebrating my faith was what I knew well.
After marriage, I came to the city, where the Christian population is a bare minimum. You have to look for people who are Christian and only a few of them are Catholic. Being in the minority, Catholics here cling to the Church to meet each other, worship together and have community life. It was a huge cultural shock for me, when I saw people of other religions, with dominant roles in society and politics, carefully following all their customs and traditions and celebrating their festivals in as much as grandeur as I had celebrated mine back home.
As a new wife and then a mother, I did not know where the next Christian would be. So I too, go to Church almost daily, to mingle with ‘our tribe.’ I want the faith to be given in all its richness to my daughter. What I realized was that I needed to be intentional to bring her up in the faith. It is not easy, as she questions me about the other religious festivities around her. I tell as much I as know about them so that she would be careful not to offend them and so that she would realize what a rich faith we possess. I am intentional in reading God’s word aloud to her, praying with her and telling her stories from the Bible.
Also, as a minority, people around are looking at us curiously. Sometimes, while talking to my daughter about the faith, we have people of other faiths looking at us, like our spaceship just landed from a strange planet. What are these few like? How do they talk? How do they dress? Is there something different? Can these people be befriended? Because of my daughter, I am able to create connections sooner. I love greeting people. I ask my daughter to greet the elders we meet daily such as a watchman or an old neighbor enjoying the evening breeze. I love playing with children too. I gather children who play around the church and organize games and play with them. Bingo! We are friends with so many children and parents and people. Slowly it moves to more mingling, getting to know each other. Here, we are as witnesses to the Gospel.
My mind travels back to those greats who came to preach the Gospel to India, who were as strange as we are if not more. They were new missionaries, and had to learn the language, the way to dress, the food, the customs, and the huge cultural and social barriers They were rejected, accepted and rejected some more. Still, they made Jesus known. They are the reason we have faith.
Let us be true witnesses to the Gospel. Let them know us by our love. Yes, they will know we are Christians by our love.
About the Writer: Ruth Kenneth
Ruth Kenneth, is a freelance blogger and curriculum designer from Mumbai, India. She is married to John and has a little daughter Sarah. She loves JPII and his poetry, writing poetry herself, saying the Rosary, learning about the saints and playing with children.
Follow me: @soar_up_high on Instagram