Friday, December 15, 2017

BIS #5281 'I WAS NOT WORTHY TO BE A MARTYR'

by Karen Laurie 

 

MUMBAI, DEC 15, 2017: When Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian Priest, kept hostage for 557 days by terrorists in Yemen, was finally released from captivity on September 12, 2017, the world listened carefully for his testimony. Would it be one of resentment, bitterness, pain or torture? His abductors had after all gunned down 16 people, including four Missionaries of Charity nuns, in front of his eyes, before scurrying him away to an undisclosed location. Could anyone emerge from captivity unscathed?   

 

Father Uzhunnalil could and has!  

 

In Mumbai, in December, to receive the Mother Teresa Memorial Award, for his dedication and commitment to a place of great danger; 59-year-old Father Uzhunnalil is a far cry from the feeble, bitter hostage that many had imagined he would be after being held captive for over a year. While he is physically weaker, he is spiritually stronger.


"My blessed, loving Father would not give us anything bad, it may look as sufferings, but ultimately for me I see that I was not fortunate enough or worthy enough to be a martyr. I have no complaints. I never complained to the Lord. 'Why this sometimes,' yes, but I know, without his knowledge nothing bad would happen to me. While others fell to the bullets, why he has kept me unhurt? That was what strengthened me. It was not my personal strength and nothing to do with me," Father Uzhunnalil reflected.


"What kept me is this fact that the words of the Gospel, where, Jesus tells the people and his disciples, 'don't worry about clothing' and he sums up saying, 'even every hair on your head is counted and not one will fall to the ground without the knowledge of the Heavenly Father', so whenever that happens it's with the okay from the Heavenly Father."  


Father Uzhunnalil, ordained in 1990, was first dispatched to Yemen in 2010, where he was responsible for catering to the spiritual needs of sisters from the Missionaries of Charity. He returned to India in 2015, before the war escalated. While thousands of Indian citizens were asked to leave the middle-eastern country, Father Uzhunnalil felt an inner calling to volunteer to return, despite the dangers. 


His second stint began on July 1, 2017, after a UN Red Cross aircraft took him to Yemen. But the dangers of war were clearly apparent, even prompting the sisters to discuss the possibility of becoming targets of terrorists.


"Sister Superior had mentioned one night, may be two weeks before (the attack), 'Father how nice it would be if we all die together,' the youngest sister said, 'I don't want to die here,' and I said that, if it's the Lord's will, we cannot say no."


Sister Superior's words came true on March 4, 2016, as terrorists stormed the old-age home that catered to 70 inmates, firing and killing 16 people, including four sisters. Father Uzhunnalil, for some unknown reason to him, was left untouched.


"It was First Friday. We had holy Eucharistic adoration. Then the sisters went to be with the elderly people. I was still in the chapel praying. And while coming out of the sisters compound to the other general compound, I heard a gunshot and a little shuffling sound. I kept walking and there was a man with an automatic gun and bullets around his shoulders.  He held my hand and told me to sit on a chair that was near the security room. The gunshot I heard was them shooting the security man," Father Uzhunnalil, said.


"I sat there. There was a gardener who was running to switch off the water pump. They probably thought he was running away and he was shot from behind. He fell, bled profusely and in some time, he died. Another youngster, who was helping the sisters, was sleeping in a room, they brought him out and I could see the bullet hit him, he fell down and died. They brought the four sisters out, took two of them a little far away but within my vicinity. I heard two gunshots, they fell and then the other two sisters, were where I could see them, they shot them behind the head."


"I saw them fall. As I was watching all this, I just prayed to the Lord, have mercy on them, on the sisters as well as all those who were killing. I know it is not my strength. The Lord never gave me any fear or anxiety. I was not shivering. I was just watching and praying."


The terrorists then forced Father Uzhunnalil into the boot of a car, before they returned to wreak more havoc on the home. They eventually drove him some distance, before shifting him to another vehicle. He was blindfolded and taken to a house, where he was made to sit in a room. Then they questioned him, took away his mobile phone and gave him a different set of clothes to wear.


"First one or two days they tied my hands and feet and blindfolded me and I was not allowed to see them nor was I allowed to see the place and the location." Father Uzhunnalil was moved to multiple locations during his time in captivity. He lost count of the date and time, but he knew the Lord would not abandon him in his hour of need.      


"I used to keep recalling in my mind, that English hymn, 'One day at a time sweet Jesus'. I would wake up thank the Lord for the day, say the Angelus, say prayers for the dead, the Divine Mercy Rosary, Stations of the Cross and a Spiritual Mass. Since there was no bread and wine, no missal, I knew the prayers of the Mass, the prayers of the readings, I would meditate on it, bring to mind the Old Testament, New Testament, the Gospels and miracles."


"I would do the prayer of intercession for all and I would then complete the Holy Sacrifice spiritually and receive the spiritual Communion."


While Father Uzhunnalil prayed for the world outside, the world outside – and the faithful in India in particular - prayed for his release. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and over a year later, he was released!      


"I see in all these events the hand of God. He has a mission for each one of us. Perhaps, the mission entrusted for me was to go back (to Yemen) and to give strength to the sisters and since I was not killed, the Lord wanted me to pray for these people, for the groups (captors) that they may change their attitudes."


"I know my own people, the whole Salesian family, the Holy Father have prayed for me. Even Hindu and Muslim brothers and sisters, everyone prayed for me and it is their prayers that have kept me calm and kept me from sickness and pains. I could have been disturbed mentally and have gone off my head but none of those things has happened, no nightmares, nothing. It's the Lord's grace, due to the prayers of everyone," Father Uzhunnalil, said. 


"God turns things for the good of all and I see that the 18 months that I have gone through, my going back to Yemen and coming out, God has used this opportunity to strengthen the faith of people and as a proof that He exists, He is a living God and He answers prayers."

 

Father Uzhunnalil' is a testimony that serves to inspire generations about the love and mercy of God. His visit to Mumbai did just that, as he addressed hundreds of faithful at the Shrine of Don Bosco's Madonna on the December 8. He addressed Salesians in formation on December 9 and youth at SYMBIOS, a Salesian gathering for the young  on Dec 10.


"Those who were praying for him for so many months, when they see him in person, it strengthens their faith that our prayers have been answered," Father Savio Silveira, the Salesian Vice Provincial, said.


"Father Tom is very positive. Even when he talks about his captors he always says good things about them that they took care of me, they provided for my needs, they were kind to me. He says I was spending my time praying. It is a very inspirational moment for us as priests as well  because he calls you back to your spiritual roots."

Thursday, December 14, 2017

BIS #5280 MEGA YOUTH EVENT ON HEALTH, HARMONY AND HOLINESS

by Father McEnroe Lopes

 

MUMBAI, DEC 14, 2017: Salesian Youth movement (SYM) organised a mega-youth event entitled SYMBIOS, with the theme of Health, Harmony, Holiness at the Don Bosco School, Matunga on December 9 and 10.  

 

The first day of the event was reserved exclusively for juniors, whereas the senior youth participated on the final day. Both days began by invoking the blessings of the Divine after which the participants reflected on the theme with meaningful presentations through skits, dances and mimes. They enlightened everyone on the importance of good health, living in harmony and one's call to holiness by doing ordinary duties extraordinarily.

 

The participants then took part in workshops conducted on various themes. The Red Ribbon association focused on Health, the Blue Ribbon movement on Harmony and AVEC Mumbai on Holiness. The interactive workshops focused on developing healthy food habits, choices one needs to make to be an instrument of peace and harmony and uplifting one's life. 

 

Participants put their creativity to test by participating in theme- based activities like rangoli, clay modelling, best out of waste and painting. A lively beat of Zumba proved the energy and joy of being young. The event concluded with the presentation of the SYMBIOS souvenir to all participating Salesian communities.


A highlight of SYMBIOS was the presence and testimony of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who celebrated the holy Eucharist for the senior youth on the second day. The youth were inspired as they listened attentively to Father Uzhunnalil's testimony about faith, bravery and perseverance. The youth also were given time to interact with the visiting priest. 

 

Father Uzhunnalil made headlines world-over after terrorists held him captive for over a year in Yemen after they stormed a Missionaries of Charity home in Aden and killed 16 people, including four Missionaries of Charity sisters. He was finally released from captivity on September 12 this year.

BIS #5279 FAITH FEST HELPS YOUTH STRENGTHEN FAITH

by Cleric Felix Almeida

 

NASHIK, DEC 14, 2017: Eighty youth from different regions of the Salesian and FMA Mumbai province gathered together at Maria Vihar, Nasik to celebrate 'Faith Fest', an event to help them strengthen their faith on December 9.

 

The faith celebration began with an inauguration ceremony at 5:30pm, with the girls from Maria Vihar boarding presenting a prayer dance to help the participants enter into a moment of prayer. Sister Salomi D'Souza, the FMA novice mistress declared the 'Faith Fest' open. The inaugural message dwelt on faith which is about being faithful, available, indebted, together and holy.

 

In his speech, Father Ashley Miranda, the Chief Guest, mentioned how faith is a significant element of life and that faith and action go hand in hand. In her welcome note, Sister Philomena D'Souza emphasised on how Nashik is a centre of faith for many people and therefore for us gathered here it is now an experience of strengthening our faith.

 

Sister Nilima Rodrigues, the chief coordinator, then introduced the organisers. An ice-breaker session was held to help the youth make new friends. The participants were divided into eight different groups. Activities were conducted to help them reflect on the aspects of faith in their lives and what God means to them. To further inspire the youth, biblical games were organised. Seeking the guidance of our Blessed Mother, the youth then prayed the candle light holy Rosary and contemplated on the Joyful Mysteries.

 

At supper the youth had time for recreation and to mingle with others. The day ended with praise and worship adoration service in which the youngsters offered their weaknesses and failures before the Lord. Sticking to the Salesian tradition, Father Jacob Palaparambil shared a goodnight message asking youngsters to be bearers of Christ in their respective setups.

 

The next day began with an animated morning prayer after which the youngsters had meditation in their respective groups. During the meditation, the youngsters reflected on the Gospel passage of Jesus being lost in the temple. The later session was intense in nature with youngsters being given personal time to reflect on life and relationships especially in the family. This meaningful journey continued with the sacrament of reconciliation wherein the youngsters spend quality time with themselves in silence. The holy Eucharist was then celebrated by Father Kenneth Pereira who helped the participants to understand the different parts of the Eucharist and its significance.

 

Post lunch a session was organised by the brothers with the theme 'You too can be a Saint'. The session focused on how holiness is a matter of opening ones heart to God. After the session, participants spent some time sharing their experiences. The last input session was given by Father Robert Pen who spoke on motivating oneself which is a crucial element in the life of every youngster. The 'Faith Fest' celebration ended with a closing ceremony and prize distribution. The youngsters were grateful for the experience and expressed their sentiments personally to those who contributed to the process of growth in their lives.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

BIS #5278 DON BOSCO'S MICKEY MAGONE NOW AVAILABLE IN GUJARATI

by BIS Correspondent

 

DAKOR, DEC 13, 2017: The life-story of Don Bosco's pupil Mickey Magone who reformed himself from a street hooligan to an aspiring saint in the 18th century is now available in Gujarati. The fruit of a long-drawn laborious effort by Father Dinesh Vasava, Mickey Magone is a short, crisp booklet featuring incidents from the young lad's life prior to and after meeting with Don Bosco in the alleyways of Turin during the aftermath of the industrial revolution.

 

Mickey Magone, the Gujarati version was launched with much fanfare as part of the concluding moments of SYMBIOS GuRaM at the Don Bosco Dakor campus on December 10. Father Godfrey D'Souza, Salesian Provincial Mumbai; Pioneering Salesian Missionary in Dakor, Father Ivan deSouza; Father Ignas Macwan, Father Charles Anthony, Father Edwin, Sister Sunanda FMA, Sister Melna SMI; and Jasvantbhai  Macwan, Editor of the Gujarati Catholic Monthly Dhoot participated in the book launch ceremony.

 

Compeering the event, Father Pravin Macwana, Rector at Don Bosco Narukot described the book launch as a relevant meaning-making occasion within the context of the mega-youth fest, with 450 youth from across the institutions managed by the Salesian Family in the GuRaM region of NorthWest-Central India. "Every sinner has a past; every sinner has a future, and this book reveals how this is possible through Don Bosco's Educational System," remarked Father Macwana. Jasvantbhai Macwan, who painstakingly copy-edited the tome, said, "The life of Mickey Magone as this book describes, and the tremendous transformation in his personal life after meeting with Don Bosco is so inspirational, I wonder why he has not been declared a saint by the Church! The boy who was considered a gang-leader and a ruffian, reinvents himself as a do-gooder through a virtuous renewal of his life and this book will definitely prove relevant to everyone who reads it."

 

In the Q & A session that followed the launch, the author of Mickey Magone, Father Dinesh Vasava interacted with the 450 plus audience, sharing his personal life-experiences and youth-encounters as a Salesian of Don Bosco. Replying to a question on his own personal 'Mickey'-like encounters, he said, "Yes, of course, during my tenure here in Dakor, as a young Salesian, I have indeed encountered so many boys who were alike Mickey Magone, and moreover in my stint at Don Bosco Snehalaya at Vadodara in the interactions with these boys whom society rejects and neglects, I really discovered the greatness of Don Bosco's youth work."

 

When asked about his inspiration, Father Vasava reminisced about his childhood and latter years, responding, "Looking at my own childhood and experiences in the boarding and later when I decided to join the Salesians of Don Bosco, I can say that yes, Mickey Magone is an inspiration for change. I was inspired to write this book for the young and for Salesians in local Gujarati, since this can possibly affect the lives of so many youth and enable them to connect with each other, while responsibly committing themselves to societal transformation."

 

The young participants at SYMBIOS GuRaM were ebullient in their applause for the effort of the author, even as Father Macwana brought the occasion to a close reminding the participants that this is the moment for life-transformation and Mickey Magone can be their inspiration.

BIS #5277 USHERING IN CHRISTMAS

by Cleric Mukesh Garasiya

 

MUMBAI, DEC 13, 2017: Twenty girls and boys from Don Bosco Parish, Borivli, preparing to receive their First Holy Communion, visited Bosco Boys Home, a non formal technical school catering to the needs of school dropouts, economically marginalised and orphans with little opportunities in making a living, on December 10.

   

Teachers, Veena Prabhu and Sabina D'Silva, accompanied the youth on the visit. The group from the parish arrived at 11.30am. Father Lloyd Rodrigues, the vice rector welcomed them. Thereafter, Prabhu began the programme by asking a few children to come forward and to sing Christmas carols. She then played a video on the theme of love and hope.

 

All children were then divided into four groups namely; Love, Peace, Joy and Hope. The purpose of the visit was to encourage interaction among the children. Youth were asked the names of friends that they had made. Prizes were given to those who answered correctly. The parish group also brought some stationery for the boys. Towards the end, another video was shown on the story of Christmas. Prabhu reiterated the message presented in the video saying, "Great things have humble beginnings."  

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

BIS #5276 NEARLY 400 STUDENTS OBTAIN SKILL CERTIFICATE

BFather Rolvin D'Mello

 

MUMBAI, DEC 12, 2017: The Don Bosco Development Society (DBDS), Mumbai organised the graduation day ceremony of the vocational skill classes in which nearly 400 students obtained their certificates. Father Savio Silveira, Vice Provincial of province of Mumbai, was the chief guest and he presented the certificates to the students. 

 

The programme began with a short prayer service at the Bianchi hall in the Don Bosco International School building. Surekha Pednekar, coordinator –DBDS, welcomed the gathering. She shared information on various vocational courses like spoken english, basic computer, tally, beauty culture (hair and skin), mehendi and tailoring, which were conducted from June - November 2017.

 

In his address, Father Silveira expressed his joy on seeing so many students empowered through these skills. He also congratulated the DBDS team for their good work. The programme ended with a short entertainment and cultural show put up by the students. It also included a display of the skills learnt during the training period. 

 

"I am grateful to Don Bosco for teaching me computers and especially the accounting package of tally – absolutely free of cost. This will definitely help me in building my bright future," Komal Manjule, student of the computer course, said.