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Archives From India to the U.S.: Both mission territories

October 20, 2021

By Mary Beth Bracy
Contributing Writer

PLATTSBURGH – If you want to know what Father Tojo Chacko’s life as a priest was like in India, ask him to show you pictures. His face lights up as he scrolls through the montage of images: seminarians fishing together and working in rice paddies, visiting families and playing with school children, celebrations on feasts that attract thousands to shrines, and offering Mass for the faithful.

“In South Central India (around 2003-04), I used to work with Salesians and the street children, who had no one,” Father Chacko reflected. “Sometimes they were kids who ran away from their homes. They used to be in the streets begging or things like that. We used to invite them to our home, give them food or boarding. We used to teach them and send them to schools, teach them trades like carpentry. We had a big rehabilitation center where we would send them to school to grow. It’s alarming the number of kids who run away or have lost their parents. In many of the cities, we can find a lot of children without anyone to take care of them.”

His memories continued, “Especially in Northeast India, I was in a school and parish. It was multilingual and had many different languages. We used to go Christmas caroling at every house in the village, taking Jesus and dancing and singing. Everyone welcomed us and would partake in the festivals. India has a lot of religious and cultural festivals. Most people regardless of religion take part in each other’s festivals, especially Christmas.”

In the last parish he was assigned to in India, Father Chacko jokingly shared that he supervised 200 boys “to keep them from smashing each other’s heads” in K – 12th grade.

“We had a daily routine like prayer, early Mass, then classes and games,” he said.

He also did a lot of house visitations. “Basic Christian communities” are really important there, where “groups of Christians get together, read the Bible, say the prayers, and have a meal together. They are based around the parish. Over the years religious identity has become a big thing because of religious persecutions, we tried to remain as close knit as possible. They are a praying community that supports each other through setting common goals, financial or social. So, they aren’t just a praying community alone, it is much more than that. They may start small scale businesses or endeavors to help with their goals in education and health, and various other things.”

“When I worked in Northeast and Central India,” Father Chacko added, “we can go and meet and speak with anyone and people mostly accept us. A lot of common, every day people accept and listen to us. There are a lot of people who believe in Jesus and pray to our Mother Mary and come to our shrines, though they won’t be converted to Christianity for various reasons. In some of the Northern parts of India you have to be very careful, it can become dangerous sometimes. It is multilingual and multicultural, everyone live in harmony and peace. Naturally people are good with each other. Most people send their kids to Christian schools to receive education because of their standard of education.”

Recalling his seminary days, Father Chacko shared:

“In South Central India, we used to go to villages and visit most houses, gather people together and pray. A lot of people came, despite of different religious beliefs. We focused on teaching the children the basics. A lot of singing, praise prayers, reading Scripture, preaching. We taught kids to write and read. We told them stories, mostly from the Bible and for life.” He said he encountered “A lot of people who are very poor who are farmers, who depend on the seasons and the climate. A lot of people who have only a meal a day. There are a lot of kids who can’t go to school. It is very sad.”

When Father Chacko visited India in the spring, he noted: “There was a strict lock down and no public Masses. I spent time with family and celebrated Masses, but not public via live streaming.”

In India, there are anti-conversion laws, and Christians are not allowed to evangelize.

“Because of the popular Hindu movement, they try to say that Christians want to convert everyone,” Father Chacko said. “It is not so, if it were true, India could have already become a Christian nation. We want to spread the good news about Jesus Christ, who Jesus is and what He did. In India we have a mutual respect for our beliefs. A lot of people come to our Churches and shrines to pray. Christianity in India is growing, but many are afraid to identify themselves as Christians though they believe in Jesus.”

Arriving in the United States, Father Chacko said he experienced a bit of culture shock.

“Coming to U.S. was an eye opener,” he said. “What we know about U.S. in India is from Hollywood movies. I was surprised to see a lot of good Catholic families. There is a lot of faith.”

The United States and India are both mission territories, he noted.

“You can compare it in both extremes,” he said. “In India a lot of people who may not have even heard about Jesus. In the U.S. there are people who have heard about Jesus but don’t know Him fully.”

In the United States Father Chacko has enjoyed “working a lot visiting hospitals and the homebound, bringing Communion.”

“It has helped me grow as a priest and in my faith in Christ, especially ministering to the sick and the suffering,” he said. “There are a lot of people who have a lot of tragedies in life. They hold on to Jesus, they hold on to their faith. In my encounters with them, it has helped me a lot. Through my years here, I have known many families who have had a tough life due to tragedies or illnesses in their families. It has helped me a lot in my journey of faith.”


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