By Kenwyn Sylvester, seminarian. Photos sourced from various pilgrims.
I have dubbed this experience ‘the mother of all pilgrimages’, from Trinidad and Tobago to London, England to India.This is the first such journey that I have been on but the tremendous effect that this, our trip, had on us and me in particular, leaves me feeling that there could never have been and would ever be any other pilgrimage that could possibly rival ‘ours’.
In India we visited Mumbai (in the state of Maharashtra), Kochi (Cochin) and Kumarakon (in the state of Kerala), Goa, Delhi and Agra (in the state of Uttar Pradesh), to name just some of main states and cities.
One important fact that our journey has brought home to me is the ‘unity of man’. I say this in an attempt to suggest that the entire human race is in fact a unit and needs to act and be treated as such. We are here to love and serve each other. In this way we serve God our creator.
I have stated Trinidad and Tobago as our first stop, because it is here that we ‘pilgrims’ first met each other and the gelling as a group began. Our first meeting with our group leaders, Felix Edinborough, Bernadette Salandy and spiritual director Fr Martin Sirju, was at the Catholic Centre, Independence Square, Port of Spain. We began with a Mass.
It is at this first meeting that I felt the fusion of the prospective journeyers beginning. It was at this point I realised that this group, as small as it was, could make a difference.
In each city we visited, we had to go by air and travelled through the city by coach (bus), where our tour guides, drivers and attendants were Indians. Generally each day on the coach we began with morning prayers. We stopped for Mass at a different church on each day. The days ended with evening prayers and the rosary on our return to the hotel.
During most of our trip, we sat together for our meals, and as a result we got to know each other very well, mainly because of our honest interactions with each other.
Our contacts with Indian citizens occurred on the streets, during our occasional walks, in the churches we visited, during our visits to places of interest and in the hotels. They were all friendly and helpful.
We could not help but be impressed by the fervour of those attending church services at the times when, on arrival for Mass, we were fortunate enough to see another Mass in progress.
Most of the churches we visited were beautiful structures, the altars were awesome; we were on sacred ground. The priests were most welcoming of the pilgrims of our group.
The staff at each hotel was well trained, always willing to help and please. All of the instances above I firmly believe were true quality times; we were getting a good understanding of the places we visited and of the people we met. In short, we were beginning to understand India: a country and a people with a vision.
Our two week ‘escapade’ also took us to significant heritage sites where we had experiences which will remain etched in our memories. In Coloba, south Mumbai we visited the Holy Name RC Cathedral. The ceiling of this cathedral was painted by a Jesuit lay-brother, A Mosheni of Bergamo, aided by two assistants, depicting the entire life of Jesus Christ. These paintings were reminiscent of the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
In Kerala, we experienced a three-hour house boat ride on Lake Vembanadu from Kumarakom to Alleppy, south India, where we had a look at ‘life on the lake’. We had lunch and were able to have significant interaction with the four crew members. All of this certainly served to enrich our India experience.
In Delhi we had the opportunity to walk through an open-air mosque, the Jama Masjid, after which, we took a rickshaw-caravan bicycle ride (23 of us, on about 11 rickshaws) through the streets of Old Delhi, eventually visiting the spice market. These were truly wonderful experiences.
Our visit to the Ghandi Memorial was a must. The presentation on Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi, generally regarded as the father of the Indian nation, left nothing to be desired.
Last, we journeyed by coach from Delhi to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, which was commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his wife Mumtaz. This wonder of the world left us speechless. Its magnificence is unsurpassed; a fitting symbol of lasting love.
Our experiences, some of which are mentioned above, the beautiful people, the towering sometimes massive structures built centuries ago, assured me of the enduring nature of the goodness, the intelligence and the vision with which God has endowed all human beings.
We were allowed to celebrate Mass in every town that we visited. In most of these instances, Fr Sirju was the celebrant or co-celebrated Mass with the resident parish priest: the sameness of all the Masses (as compared with our Masses at home, in Trinidad and Tobago), together with the response of the local residents in all of the Indian towns which we visited, reinforced in me the belief in the similarity of all human beings.
The readiness with which each parish priest welcomed us and Fr Sirju into his church also spoke to me of the willingness of our religious leaders to share. We are all one people.
I felt at home in every church that we visited; eventually I began feeling almost at home in India. I began seeing the relevance of the reading from the letter of St Paul to the Hebrews: “ Jesus Christ is the same today as he was, yesterday and as he will be forever” (Heb 13:8).
Goodness and good living do not change as the centuries go by. I say this to suggest also that Jesus Christ is mirrored in the good that exists in this world in which we live. We prayed with all our hearts in the firm belief that we were making a difference.
We are now all back in our homes having been changed by our experiences, confident that we too have had positive effects on those with whom we interacted.