India, February-March 2013

Visits to Vasai and Mumbai

In February and March some of the brothers spent several weeks in the city of Vasai. Here they speak about their journey.

The City of Vasai is located in the north of the Metropolitan Region of Mumbai (Bombay), a conurbation of twenty million people. Many people travel daily from Vasai to the centre of Mumbai in severely overcrowded trains.

There are many Christians in Vasai and Taizé has been in contact with the church there for a long time; Brother Roger visited the city during his first visit to India in 1976. Since then, many young people from the city, from different denominations, have spent time in Taizé during the summer months as volunteers, helping with the welcome for the international youth meetings.

As Brother Alois announced during the European Meeting in Rome, in 2013 we would like to listen especially to the youth of Asia. There will be meetings in several countries. A stage in the "Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth" will take place in November, in Vasai, for young people from the city and the surrounding area, with the participation of the various churches. Of course such a meeting means a lot of organizational challenges: places for worship, meals, transport, which are things we will need to tackle, but first we are here to walk alongside the young people.

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The theme for 2013 is "Discovering the sources of trust in God." We thought about this along with the youth of Vasai: how can the coming months help us renew our confidence, our trust in God, but also the trust in people around us? How can we deepen our relationship with God and also pray together more often?

Every weekend we visited parishes in one or other part of the city. We also met students from Catholic schools and made contact with the parish youth groups. Many are already familiar with the songs of Taizé but they also wanted to know more about the international meetings. With some of them we reflected about trust in God and how to live an active life. How can we find strength in our relationship with God, what kind of friendship do we live as Christians? In schools we met hundreds of students, mostly Christians, but some of them also came with non-Christian friends.

Each weekend a youth group from a different parish organised a prayer and invited all the youth from the region. These prayers were well prepared, both in terms of the decoration of the place and also the music. Each time the prayer continued into a time of prayer around the cross and the singing continued late into the night. These prayers and meetings gave us a foretaste of the November meeting and encouraged many young people in their search for "springs of living water."

During our stay we also visited the rural area around Vasai, small villages, so different from the big city. In some cases young people have to walk up to six kilometres each day to reach their school. Again we help prayers and meetings.

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One morning, after a beautiful prayer the night before in the village church, we went to visit a hospital. One image remains with us: the women gathered around the well, water jugs, lively conversations in the morning sun. How could we not think about the meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, to whom he promises living water.

This is precisely what we wish to live in November when we return to Vasai: to discover a well-spring of living water, God in our lives, the one who encourages us: "Trust in God brings to birth in us a new way of looking at others, at the world, and at the future - a way of looking that involves gratitude and hope, and attentiveness to beauty." (from the fourth of brother Alois’ Proposals 2013).

Meetings and prayers also took place in the city of Mumbai. Brother Alois will be there in November for a prayer vigil following the Vasai meeting.

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September, October 2012

One of the brothers who was visiting India at the end of September writes: "Every time you visit India you dive into a world of such diversity, such contrasts, a country (a continent) completely turned towards the future but which, despite the modernity that it seems to be running towards, manages to keep deep down without itself an unchanging religious sense."

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Where I was staying, in Mumbai, one day apart from each other, two religious events, one hindu, one christian, took place before my eyes: Saturday 29 September was the last day of Ganesh Visarjan where the statues of Ganesh are thrown into the sea, the god Ganesh taking with him all the troubles of his worshippers. There were exuberant processions in the streets of young and old singing and dancing and seemingly never getting tired.

The next day was the feast of Karam, a joyful and popular tribal feast to celebrate the harvest. Many young Adivasis (from indigenous tribes) come to Mumbai to look for work, many of them as domestic servants. The majority of them are young and Christians. Every Sunday they come together at St. Francis Xavier school for Mass in Hindi. This particular Sunday, 30 September, everything had been particularly carefully prepared, integrating elements from their culture into the liturgy. A choir had practised the songs for the various parts of the celebration. Before the start of the Mass everyone met together in the courtyard to cut three branches from the Karam tree and then, dancing, they slowly entered the hall, transformed into a makeshift chapel. After the celebration, the festivities continued late into the night with food and tribal dances that everyone joined in.

One of the values that have remained anchored in the heart of the people and resists the changes in society is attachment to the family. In the old Kumbalanghi family home, Edward and Audrey welcome fifteen or so young couples with their children, more than 40 people in all. The preparations were already under way at 3pm. It’s difficult to describe what happened, it was like a ballet of ladders fixing orange material to the trees, the children running around in the middle, people arriving by motorbike, motor-rickshaw and car, and each time more children swarming around icons and plants. Once everyone had arrived, the couples met to reflect on what "the new solidarity" could mean. One of the partners in each couple had spent three months in Taizé in the past and wanted to share the experience they had had there with their husband or wife. It was admirable to see how each one was listened to, the place given to the children during the time of prayer, and the beauty of the courtyard suddenly transformed into a place of prayer.

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In Kolkata, before going to pray at Mother Teresa’s grave, there was the opportunity to share this step in the pilgrimage of trust with those who had come : a little group from Baruipur, others from Bishop’s College, volunteers working in one of the sisters’ houses. Mother Teresa’s witness is a great encouragement to continue on the way of the new solidarity.

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